LAS VEGAS — Christopher Bell almost locked his way into the Championship 4 for the second year in a row.
This time, he wouldn’t have needed a cutoff race miracle like last year. This time, Bell would’ve won the first race of the Round of 8 instead of the last one and had two easy weeks ahead instead of two stressful ones.
But instead, Bell just missed out on winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 15). He got beat by Kyle Larson by just 0.082 seconds.
“I really feel like that was our chance,” Bell said. “That was our chance to make Phoenix this year. It slipped away from us.”
Bell chopped into Larson’s lead in the closing laps, completely erasing a lead of over two seconds for the No. 5. But Bell ran out of laps and didn’t get alongside Larson until they were coming out of the final turn for the final time. Too little, too late.
“I mean, I don’t know what else I could have done, so I don’t know,” Bell said. “I feel like that was my moment. That was my moment to make the Final Four. Didn’t quite capture it.
“… Coming to the checkered there, I knew that he was going to be blocking, so I’m like, I’m going to try to go high. He went high. I don’t even know if I had a run to get by him there coming to the line. Just wasn’t enough.”
Instead of clinching a spot in the Championship 4, Bell leaves Las Vegas two points below the cut line.
“We still got two more races to get ourselves in position, so I feel good about that,” Bell said. “But to be that close really stinks.”
Bell showed speed all throughout the weekend. He won the pole on Saturday (Oct. 14) and finished in the top three in all three stages of the race. But he lost the lead to Larson on lap 3 and spent most of the day chasing the No. 5, occasionally swapping the lead with his dirt-racing rival.
The No. 20 took control of the race, though, when Bell took the lead on lap 169, and Bell led until the caution on lap 211. During that yellow, Bell entered pit road with the lead and left in third after he spun the tires exiting his No. 1 pit stall.
“The pit stalls are really slick, so I was just struggling to get going all day,” Bell said.
Larson cruised to what looked like an insurmountable lead when the race finally went green for good. But a late surge from the No. 20 nearly got Bell around Larson.
He cut the deficit from 1.6 seconds to 0.082 seconds in just 20 laps. He just needed one more lap.
“A great day, great day for sure to get the stage points, get a second-place finish out of it,” Bell said. “I think I saw we’re minus two, so we’re not out of it by any means. It would have been nice to lock it in.”
As Bell stood on pit road, dejected, his team owner Joe Gibbs walked over and gave him a pat on the arm.
“He [Gibbs] told me good job, so that was cool,” Bell said. “But I feel like I let the team down to come that close was disappointing, but we obviously had a great day. So I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be feeling better about it.”
As Bell stood there doing his interview with NBC Sports, Larson, who he has raced with since either of them even came to NASCAR, briefly stopped his winning car to give Bell the thumbs-up and tell him good job. This, as well as Bell’s comments after, put to bed the feud that once existed between the two.
“We’ve been cool for a while,” Bell said. “I don’t know what else I could’ve done to get by him. On to Miami.”
The final two races of the Round of 8 are at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. Bell won at Martinsville last year to grab a spot in the Championship 4, but Homestead has been a different story for him. He only has one top 10 in three starts there.
“A lot of prep work for Miami for sure,” Bell said. “That’s a place that I haven’t done well at in the past, so I need to go there and have an amazing day for sure.”
While nothing is guaranteed for the next two weeks, the path for Bell to the Championship 4 is much easier than last year when he was 33 points below the cut line after Homestead and had to win at Martinsville to make it in.
“I feel good that we’re close on points, but you just never know,” Bell said. “Obviously, I went through the ringer last year in the Round of 12 and the Round of 8. So, I understand that anything can happen. But man, that stinks [to not win]. That really stinks.”
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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