Bell Rings Up A Bank of America ROVAL™ 400 Victory
With NASCAR Playoff mayhem unfolding behind him at every turn, Christopher Bell kept his cool, sped to the lead on a restart with two laps to go and emerged with an unexpected victory in Sunday's Bank of America ROVAL™ 400.
Bell needed a win to advance into the Playoffs' round of 8, and a series of late-race cautions created a golden opportunity for the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Bell took advantage of fresh tires and an excellent restart, passing Kevin Harvick and driving away for the third win of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
Defending series champion and reigning ROVAL™ winner Kyle Larson was in safe position to advance in the Playoffs before he encountered a broken toe link with 10 laps to go. Larson's team repaired the damage and gave Larson a fighting chance to advance to the Round of 8.
His luck ran out in the final turns of the last lap, when fellow Playoff contender Chase Briscoe used new tires and two last-lap desperation moves to finish ninth and knock Larson out of the Playoffs. Larson finished 35th and missed out on advancing by two points.
Alex Bowman — who didn't race on Sunday after sustaining a concussion two weeks earlier — was eliminated along with Larson, Austin Cindric and Daniel Suarez.
Harvick lost out on a Round of 12 bid after he was one of the first four out of the Playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway in September.
He nearly responded with a win on Sunday.
Harvick made contact with then-race leader A.J. Allmendinger on a restart after the race's third caution, took the lead and was primed to win, but another caution erased his advantage, bunched up the field and gave Bell the opportunity he needed to punch his ticket into the Round of 8. Harvick settled for second with Kyle Busch third.
Allmendinger, who won Saturday's Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, ended up three spots short of a weekend sweep in fourth. Justin Haley finished fifth with Chris Buescher sixth, Bubba Wallace seventh, Tyler Reddick eighth, Briscoe ninth and Austin Dillon 10th.
CHRISTOPHER BELL, NO. 20 JOE GIBBS RACING TOYOTA (Race Winner): "Really mind-blowing. The whole race went green-flag (until the last 10 laps) and I thought we were just biding our time, waiting for the end of the race. I was thinking about getting out of here with a top-10 and focusing on trying to get fifth in points (after getting eliminated). I feel extremely good about what we have going on in the next three races. Since the schedule came out, we felt like the Round of 16 were great tracks for us, just like the Round of 8, but this round, with Talladega and here, we felt pretty nervous. I still felt like we could advance, but it wasn't gong to be easy. We needed to hit a home run. These last two weeks, I've just been extremely deflated. I was down in the dumps. I can promise you now, though, that I'm as excited as I've ever been for these next three races. I didn't see (a win) coming. We haven't been good on road courses this year. With that being said, you see races all the time where the fastest car doesn't win. We weren't expecting to be a dominant car but as long as you're there at the end and you put yourself in position, you never know what's going to happen."
JOE GIBBS, NO. 20 JOE GIBBS RACING TOYOTA (Winning Car Owner): "The amazing thing is, if there was a type of cutoff race we didn't want, it was going to be a road race. You wouldn't think things would play out the way they played out, but we're thankful for it. I think this really shows how this sport is totally about teamwork. This is a big deal for us, very emotional. We love being a part of this and getting the chance to compete against the best race teams in the world, so it's a thrill to win a race like this."
ADAM STEVENS, NO. 20 JOE GIBBS RACING TOYOTA (Winning Crew Chief): "I mean, really, if you look at it, our road-course stuff hasn't been where we needed it to be. We needed a caution at the end, we needed to do something different than what those guys were going to do. If (the leaders) came and got tires, we were going to stay out. We didn't fall too far in the field, Bell got a tremendous restart and he made it happen."
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 4 STEWART-HAAS RACING FORD (Runner-Up): "I knew we were in a bit of a pickle there with Christopher on new tires. I just didn't want to blow the (first) corner, I wanted to give us a chance, but he was able to roll more speed than we were, and from there it was just damage control and bringing the thing home. That's what we did. The (crew) did a good job getting us the track position, but that last caution killed us. We were a half-lap from getting the white flag and then on the restart there, Christopher did a good job. This is a tough race track to get a good finish, because it turns really rough at the end. We were really a half-lap from getting a win, but Christopher did a good job on new tires. It was still a great day."
KYLE BUSCH, NO. 18 JOE GIBBS RACING TOYOTA (Third-Place Finisher): "We just lucked into jumping a few cars during that middle stage, and then there at the end it was just trying to keep it on track and stay straight. We were losing rear tire grip and got that late caution, then we took advantage of new tires."