By Zach Sturniolo
3 Minute Read
LAS VEGAS — Christopher Bell was riding high after a walk-off win at the Charlotte Roval launched him into the Round of 8.
How quickly things change.
Bell was an innocent bystander collected in a fracas between Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the round-opening race on Sunday. Contact to his left-rear quarter panel sent the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota spinning hard into the outside wall, ending his day prematurely and relegating him to a 34th-place finish.
MORE: Official results | At-track photos
Bell, who admitted his attitude heading to the Roval was down in the dumps, is not leaving Vegas much more optimistic about his hopes to advance to the Championship 4 with two races remaining in the round.
“It’s disappointing because our performance is capable of racing for the championship, and it doesn’t appear that we’re going to get to,” Bell said. “Just disappointing.”
That it was the result of what appeared to be intentional contact directly ahead of him only soured Bell’s perspective.
“Just the 23, Bubba [Wallace] got run into the wall and obviously, retaliation on his side,” Bell said. “We got the short end of the stick.”
The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs have been a roller coaster for Bell and Co. His first round was immaculate, netting a trio of top-five finishes. The second was miserable — a crash at Texas Motor Speedway and a solo spin at Talladega Superspeedway left Bell 45 points beneath the elimination line. A clutch win in Charlotte rallied the team only to be disheartened again in Vegas.
“I don’t know man, this one’s really tough, you know?” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “That first round went exactly like you drew it up, kind of showed the speed we had. And hell if anything, we didn’t even have good luck in that first round. The second round went horrible and then you know had that good luck at the end. We were gonna run sixth, seventh, eighth. That’s all the speed we brought to the race track and got that late caution and took advantage of it and stayed alive.
“And I think we had a car capable of racing for the win [at Vegas]. Got behind on pit road on that stop and then got caught in somebody else’s wreck.”
The team initially tried to continue and repair the car, but the damage was too severe for Bell to make laps.
“It just mangled all the left rear suspension and it bent the toe link,” Stevens said. “And we tried to put a new toe link on it, but it bent the upper and the lower [control arms], which we’re not allowed to change anyway. And even if we were, we wouldn’t have had time. So we couldn’t get a toe link to get on it to even go out there and roll around half-throttle. And if we could have, we wouldn’t have been able to make minimum speed anyway. They hit pretty hard.”
The bright side for Bell on a miserable day is his No. 20 team has consistently had good speed, particularly at intermediate race tracks. Homestead-Miami Speedway sits next ahead of the short track of Martinsville Speedway, in what would be his last chance to clinch his spot in the championship round.
“The good thing is I feel better about winning one of those two races than I did winning the Roval,” Bell said. “We’ve just had really, really strong Camrys – really all year long. We will see if we can go pull another rabbit out of the hat.”