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Christopher Bell Earns Championship 4 Spot, Wins at Homestead

Christopher Bell soaks up the Homestead sun after a pivotal win to make the Championship 4 field. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — If Reggie Jackson was baseball’s “Mr. October,” then the same moniker may apply for Christopher Bell in the world of NASCAR.

Much like those dramatic moments last October, Bell found a way to make some noise in last Sunday’s 4EVER 400 Presented by Mobil 1 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. When Bell found his back against the wall like he did at the Charlotte ROVAL and Martinsville cutoff races, he responded by answering the bell.

Starting from the 13th position, Bell slowly but surely crept his way toward the front of the field by finishing ninth in Stage 1. However, he had a frustrating Stage 2 in which he slipped back to 22nd.

Although Bell got a bit snippy and dry with crew chief Adam Stevens, as his No. 20 Rheem/Watts Toyota Camry was not driving to his liking. It appeared to be an uphill battle for the Joe Gibbs Racing combination in the antepenultimate race of the year.

As Bell and his team regrouped for Stage 3, the race appeared to be in the hands of Kyle Larson. Larson, who clinched a Championship 4 spot with his Las Vegas victory, won Stage 1 and seemed ready to win Stage 2.

Kyle Larson looked like the man to beat at Homestead. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

Then again, Larson’s tires were too hot, causing his No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to get too loose. Ryan Blaney capitalized on this situation, taking the lead from Larson on Lap 162. Moments later, William Byron drove past Larson to take the second position, dropping the latter to a third place result in Stage 2.

This set up a wild Stage 3 in which as many plot twists occurred in the race like Dominion War arc in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. First, Larson, who dropped from third to fifth during a pit stop between Stages 2 and 3, drove back to second to challenge Blaney for the lead.

On Lap 214, the complexity of the race changed for the field as Larson, trying to make ground up on Blaney on pit road entry, hit the sand barrier. In addition to making contact with Blaney’s right rear, the damage from the sand barrier ended Larson’s bid to defend his Homestead victory, dropping out with a 34th place result.

Following a 12 minute and 35 second red flag to clean up the mess from Larson’s crash, the race resumed with Denny Hamlin showing the way.

Just 10 laps later, a grinding backstretch crash collected JJ Yeley, John Hunter Nemechek, Brad Keselowski and Ross Chastain. This accident eliminated Yeley, Nemechek and Chastain from the race while Keselowski pressed on to place 28th, five laps behind the lead lap drivers.

The wild and craziness did not end there when Hamlin crashed into the Turn 1 wall, ending his afternoon in heartbreaking fashion on Lap 237. During this same caution period, Martin Truex Jr., his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, was out of the race due to engine issues.

These dramatic moments set up a duel between Byron and Bell, as the latter won the race off pit road in the final pit stops of the day. Nevertheless, the final 24 laps became a battle of wills between the two young racers from the Hendrick and Gibbs organizations.

With 16 laps remaining in the race, Bell answered the bell when he got past Byron for the lead. From that point on, Bell never looked back as he scored his second win of the 2023 season.

Once again, Bell came through in the clutch with a dramatic, well timed win, punching his ticket into the Championship 4 for a second consecutive season.

More importantly, it was a patented day for Bell in terms of shaking off the emotions that seemed to take over him in Stage 2.

There is no doubt that Christopher Bell mastered the high line at Homestead. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

“I’ve got the best team behind me,” Bell said. “Honestly, I don’t know, man. That race was a whirlwind. I was ready to throw the towel in there in the second stage. I got frustrated on the radio. Adam kept after it. Adam, Tyler (Allen, engineer) , William (Hartman, engineer), the guys back at the shop were working over the adjustments and gave me what I needed.

“Whenever we got some clean air, this thing was really good. I cannot say how proud I am to be here with our partners, with Rheem and DeWalt, driving these Toyota Camrys. I’ve been with Toyota since day one. Thank you, everyone, that’s supported me. This is better than a dream come true.”

That dream came true in a race where Bell expressed verbal frustration with his car, getting a bit snippy with Stevens before the team rallied around him. Rather than tucking their tails and running, Bell and the No. 20 worked together and scored a big victory.

“I let my emotions get to me, that’s for sure,” he said. “Normally, I don’t do that. But yeah, that was frustrating. It’s no secret this track hasn’t been my favorite. The first stage, I thought we were onto something. Started 14th and got all the way up to ninth, I thought if we can improve just this much, we’d have a great day. And then, it went the opposite as soon as we got to Stage 2.

“I have no idea what adjustments Adam made. We threw the kitchen sink at it, as we went from being one of the worst cars on the track to being one of the best at the end. Adam and the engineers back at the shop have the magic. What they can do on the pit stops, it’s pretty incredible the turnaround we had today.”

Along the same lines, Blaney had quite the turnaround considering how quiet his No. 12 Menards/Duracell Ford Mustang team has been until the Round of 12. Avoiding potential disaster with Larson on Lap 214, the Hartford Township, Ohio native was close to nabbing his third win of 2023 before settling for a runner up result.

For a while, it looked like Ryan Blaney had the car to conquer Homestead. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

“We were trying. We just needed laps,” Blaney said. “The long run car was really good. I just couldn’t fire off for 10 laps or so. I think the track cooling off helped those guys. I think we were better in the hotter, slicker conditions when fire off speed didn’t matter as much and it fell off quicker. That played into our benefit.

“It got a little cooler at the end and we never really front the front end speed and they did. We ran out of laps a little bit. I am proud of the effort. It was a really good day, we just got beat a little bit there at the end.”

While Tyler Reddick and his No. 45 McDonald’s Toyota Camry team rounded out the podium finishers, the 23XI Racing driver could not help but feel he left a little bit on the table at Homestead.

“Yeah, it was a frustrating day,” Reddick said. “I was really hoping we were going to get a little more out of that. The finish was what we needed, but we didn’t run as well as we wanted to all day, which was the disappointing part. I don’t know, it’s been a gripe of mine ever since we went to the composite body on the Cup side.

“Everyone runs the fence, and there’s no penalty when you have a mistake and hit the wall. Everyone just ran up there and hit it all day long. Gotta be more willing to take that risk in this car as there’s no penalty.”

No risks will be on the mind of Bell and his No. 20 team with a well timed, clutch victory at Homestead. Now, there will be no pressure at Martinsville and momentum is on their side with consecutive top two results in as many weeks.

Better yet, Bell can prepare for Phoenix and not dwell on the close call defeat at Las Vegas after capturing the checkered flag at the Southern Florida intermediate track.

It appears Christopher Bell heeded the words of The Podium Finish Live!‘s outro words.(Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

“It’s pretty sweet,” Bell said. “I don’t know if last week any bearing on it, but we’ve had two good races in a row now. Have some momentum going. It’s all about Phoenix and now we have some more time to prepare for it.

“It’s going to be very relieving going into Martinsville. I looked at this round as a must-win every race. We had three opportunities to get to Phoenix. I was pretty vocal after last week, thinking that was our chance. Fortunately, we got it done this week.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. Kyle Larson
  2. Brad Keselowski
  3. Ryan Blaney
  4. William Byron
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Denny Hamlin
  7. Tyler Reddick
  8. Austin Dillon
  9. Christopher Bell
  10. Ty Gibbs
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Ryan Blaney
  2. William Byron
  3. Kyle Larson
  4. Denny Hamlin
  5. Brad Keselowski
  6. Martin Truex Jr.
  7. Tyler Reddick
  8. Ty Gibbs
  9. Austin Dillon
  10. Joey Logano
4EVER 400 Presented by Mobil 1 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 13 20 Christopher Bell Rheem/Watts Toyota Running
2 10 12 Ryan Blaney Menards/Duracell Ford Running
3 3 45 Tyler Reddick McDonald’s Toyota Running
4 7 24 William Byron Liberty University Chevrolet Running
5 25 16 AJ Allmendinger Campers Inn RV Chevrolet Running
6 2 23 Bubba Wallace McDonald’s Toyota Running
7 9 54 Ty Gibbs (R) Monster Energy Toyota Running
8 36 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford Running
9 30 10 Aric Almirola Smithfield Ford Running
10 6 3 Austin Dillon Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Running
11 22 4 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Chevrolet Running
12 26 2 Austin Cindric Freightliner Ford Running
13 29 41 Ryan Preece United Rentals Ford Running
14 19 43 Erik Jones Allegiant Chevrolet Running
15 16 9 Chase Elliott Hooters Chevrolet Running
16 14 99 Daniel Suárez Chevrolet Running
17 21 14 Chase Briscoe Magical Vacation Planner Ford Running
18 18 8 Kyle Busch 3CHI Chevrolet Running
19 12 48 Alex Bowman Ally Koker’s Garage Chevrolet Running
20 20 7 Corey LaJoie Gainbrdige Chevrolet Running
21 17 17 Chris Buescher Fastenal Ford Running
22 15 34 Michael McDowell Love’s/Fleetguard Ford Running
23 27 31 Justin Haley LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Running
24 33 77 Ty Dillon Raze Shot Focus Chevrolet Running
25 32 38 Todd Gilliland E-Bikes Ford Running
26 34 51 Ryan Newman (i) Jacob Companies Ford Running
27 23 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Boost by Kroger/Vitaminwater Chevrolet Running
28 4 6 Brad Keselowski Ford Running
29 1 19 Martin Truex Jr. Bass Pro Shops Toyota Engine
30 11 11 Denny Hamlin Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Accident
31 8 1 Ross Chastain Kubota Chevrolet Accident
32 24 42 John Hunter Nemechek (i) Sunseeker Resoirts Chevrolet Accident
33 31 15 JJ Yeley (i) Ford Accident
34 5 5 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Accident
35 35 78 Josh Bilicki (i) Zeigler Auto Group Chevrolet Accident
36 28 21 Harrison Burton DEX Imaging Ford Overheating
NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 Playoffs Standings
Position Driver Points Points Behind Points Next
1 William Byron 4126
2 Christopher Bell 4110 -16 -16
3 Ryan Blaney 4106 -20 -4
4 Kyle Larson 4105 -21 -1
5 Tyler Reddick 4096 -30 -9
Martin Truex Jr. 4089 -37 -7
Denny Hamlin 4089 -37 0
8 Chris Buescher 4063 -63 -26

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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