Christopher Bell earned his spot in NASCAR’s championship race, while Ross Chastain used a move more suited to a video game to also advance into Sunday’s thrilling regular season finale at Martinsville Speedway.
Bell needed to win to qualify for the final four next week at Phoenix Raceway and he managed to give Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota a place in the final. Bell also won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course in the final race of the second round of the playoffs, so he’s now twice advanced with wins.
But this victory was different.
“Man, I say this all the time, but the driver is just a small piece of the puzzle for these races,” Bell said. “The reason this car won today is because it was the best car on the circuit. Adam Stevens, Tyler William, that whole group of 20, they never give up. When we’re back on the wall, it looks like it’s over, they show up and give me the fastest car here.
“I don’t know, man. Words cannot describe this feeling.
The final four drivers in the Cup Series winner’s final are Bell, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Chastain, who beat championship foe Denny Hamlin with his spectacular last-lap run.
Chastain pinned his Chevrolet against the outside wall of the 0.526-mile fast lane and cruised about 70 mph faster than the rest of the field as he moved from 10th to fifth to give Trackhouse Racing its first appearance at the championship.
Chastain credited his video game for the dramatic last-lap move.
“Oh, I played NASCAR 2005 on GameCube a lot with (younger brother) Chad growing up,” he said. “You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work.
“I mean, I did it when I was eight. I took fifth gear, asked for two gears on the last lap if we needed it, and we did. I couldn’t tell who was leading. I made the choice, I took fifth gear in the back. Completely engaged. Basically let go of the steering wheel, hoping I didn’t catch the turn four access gate or something crazy. But I was ready to do it.
Hamlin, though disappointed, was impressed.
“Great move. Great. Definitely a great move. When you have no other choice, it is certainly easy to do. But well executed,” he said.
Bell passed Chase Briscoe, who also needed to win to qualify for the championship, with five laps to go to earn the automatic spot in the championship chase. It was Bell who was caught in Bubba Wallace’s retaliation against Kyle Larson in Las Vegas and Bell recovered in that crash dropping him to the last of eight pilots.
He knew ever since that it would take a victory for Bell to compete for his first Cup title, and he pulled it off at NASCAR’s oldest track.
More AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports