One week after missing a victory by less than a car length, Christopher Bell made a late charge to the front of the field to win the 4-EVER 400 Presented by Mobil 1 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I’ve got the best team behind me,” an elated Bell told NBC. ” I was ready to throw the towel in in the second stage, and I got really frustrated on the radio, and (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) kept after it. They gave me what I needed. Whenever we got some clean air, this thing was really good… This is better than a dream come true.”
Bell struggled throughout the race, even missing out on stage points in stage two. However, Bell surged to the front and took the lead from William Byron, leading the final 16 laps to lock in his spot in the Championship 4 for the second-consecutive year.
Just behind Bell, Ryan Blaney posed a threat for the win, but did not have enough car to challenge Bell at the finish. Tyler Reddick finished third and Byron fourth, with AJ Allmendinger as the first non-playoff driver in fifth.
It was Allmendinger’s second straight top five at Homestead.
The other four playoff drivers finished outside of the top 20. Chris Buescher crossed the stripe in 21st, while Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Larson did not see the finish and were credited with 29th, 30th, and 34th.
Truex., the pole-sitter, battled Bubba Wallace for the lead early on until Byron drove up to the front. Through the opening pit cycle, Brad Keselowski took the lead until Larson eventually found his way to the front, winning the opening stage.
The stage ended under yellow after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tagged the wall exiting turn 2. Stenhouse slid sideways and hit the wall hard enough to break the right rear toe link, resulting in the No. 47 spinning.
The second stage ran green, and it looked like Larson would run away, putting on another Homestead masterclass.
Towards the end of the stage, however, Larson showed major struggles. When he tried to throttle up on corner exit, the car squirmed in all directions except forward. The No. 5 machine even looked sketchy on the straightaways.
The struggles for Larson allowed Blaney to zoom to the front, earning the stage win.
The green flag flew to start the final stage, and good, intense racing ensued. Blaney beat Byron to the front, and Hamlin joined the top three as a threat for the win.
The race took a major swing when green flag pit stops began with just under 60 laps left. Leaders Blaney and Larson slowed to get onto pit road. As they moved off of the banking, Larson, seemingly carrying too much speed, closed on Blaney and swerved to avoid the No. 12.
Larson clipped Blaney’s right rear and then slammed his right front into the sand barrels at the end of pit road.
The yellow flew again right after the restart when JJ Yeley slammed the inside wall.
Upon further review, Keselowski found himself in the middle of a four wide situation off turn 2. He tried to back off, but not in time as John Hunter Nemechek came across the nose of the No. 6 and into Ross Chastain. Nemechek then slid down into Yeley, leading to the hard contact with the wall.
On the next restart, Hamlin and Blaney fought tooth and nail for position. While they battled, Bell of nowhere wrestled the lead away. The two tangled for a few more laps, which allowed Byron to get around again.
Hamlin finally prevailed and looked towards the lead, but an issue with the right front of the car sent the No. 11 straight into the fence in turn one.
Nearly the same time the yellow flew, Truex reported an engine issue, and smoke rolled out from the pipes. The cruel five minute stretch for the Joe Gibbs Racing playoff cars set the two teams down below the cut line.
The final restart of the race occurred with 25 laps left, and while Byron took the lead, Bell ran in the shadow of the No. 24 until he made the move to take the lead.
Byron slid back a few positions while Blaney and Reddick tried to challenge Bell, but the No. 20 held a solid lead until the checkered flag dropped.
One playoff driver noticeably absent from the front of the field, Buescher, struggled with speed throughout the event. Buescher did not earn any stage points and seemingly ran outside the top 20 all afternoon.
Ahead of Martinsville, Buescher is the only playoff driver in a must-win situation. Byron sits 30 points ahead of the cut line. Blaney holds the final spot in the top four, 10 points ahead of Reddick. The struggles for Truex and Hamlin have the two Toyotas 17 points below the cut.
The Round of 8 concludes next week when the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 29 (Sunday). The Xfinity 500 will set the Championship 4, beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBC.
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