LINCOLN, Ala. — When Christopher Bell finished top five in each of the first three Playoff races, it seemed like he would be the driver to beat in the Round of 12.
But after a crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Bell shifted from a contender to well below the Playoff cutline. He enters Sunday’s YellaWood 500 25 points below the Playoff cutline and in a dire situation ahead of the middle race in the Round of 12.
“It’s not the position we want it to be in,” Bell said in a media conference Saturday. “I knew that Texas was going to be a very, very important race. I thought that we would perform well and we did perform well before the DNF so, our goal leaving Texas was to be above the cutoff line and maybe have a little bit of a bonus going in into Talladega and the [Charlotte] ROVAL. And unfortunately, that’s not the way it played out.”
Bell’s victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July started off a stretch of seven top 10s in the next 10 races. He led William Byron by 22 points after the Round of 16 before the points reset.
Now, he’s dropped to 11th in points, trailing Byron and Austin Cindric below the cutline. Byron and Cindric are seven points and eight points below the cutline, respectively, meaning they have less ground to make up.
But for Bell, he feels like he’s nearing a must-win scenario at either Talladega or the ROVAL.
“I think that if we were going anywhere except Talladega it would be more likely to be a must win,” Bell said. “There’s going to be likely crashes and out of the 12 cars, I would assume that some of those 12 cars are going to have bad days. Hopefully it’s not me.
“Talladega generally is a little bit easier to move back and forth than Daytona just because of the width and typically the lanes aren’t as blocked up. But you know, generally speaking, I don’t have a ton of experience on superspeedways with this car. I wrecked out really early at the Daytona 500. And then the Daytona fall race, I wrecked out early again. Talladega I guess I had an OK run, but wasn’t racing for the win at the end.”
Like he did ahead of the spring race, Bell qualified his Toyota Camry on the pole, meaning he can control the race early on.
The spring race at Talladega had six cautions and 13 cars failing to finish. By leading early on, Bell could potentially avoid early and score needed stage points.
“With us getting no points at Texas, it forces our hand to have to go through those stage points,” Bell said. “Starting on the pole, hopefully we’re able to maintain track position throughout the first 60 laps, but it’s such a long run. And we have to have a green flag pitstop in there. So it’s just a long way to go before they pay out stage points, but for sure we have to be in the running of it.
“I think that people will be calm especially to start the race. And then whenever it comes time to get those points it’s going to ramp up and the likelihood for a wreck is going to increase.”
Sunday’s YellaWood 500 is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on USA Network. Bubba Wallace won last year’s race and Ross Chastain won the spring race.