AVONDALE, Ariz. — Christopher Bell’s NASCAR Cup Series championship hopes ended early on Sunday after a mechanical failure took him out of the race in the second stage.
After complaining of brake issues, Bell lost control of his car on Lap 109 while running sixth and shot into the Turn 3 outside wall. He limped his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota down the frontstretch and to pit road, where the team diagnosed the failure as a broken brake rotor. The damage was unrepairable and the team instructed Bell to take the car behind the wall, officially ending their title chances.
Throughout the weekend, Bell said that he didn’t have any issues until the brakes began fading in Stage 2. He qualified his car 13th on Saturday and got up to ninth at the end of Stage 1. Ryan Blaney, who won his way into the championship last week at Martinsville Speedway, finished second and took home his first title over Bell, William Byron and Kyle Larson.
“That was my first time I’ve ever exploded a rotor in my career,” Bell said at the infield care center. “I was surprised, but early on in the race, I had a little bit of brake fade and the second run it just kept getting worse and worse. I don’t know. Just obviously a disappointing way to end. I’m super, super proud of this 20 team and all of our partners at DEWALT and Rheem. To be in the final four is something we’re really proud of.
“It stings to not have a shot at the end of it obviously. We were all four really close and we all four showed strengths at different times.”
Bell made the Championship 4 for the second consecutive season after a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Round of 8. He won at Bristol Dirt back in April and ended the campaign with 10 top-fives and 19 top-10 finishes.
Though he again fell short, the overall result of the season is still a milestone for Bell. Consecutive championship appearances resulted in back-to-back finishes in the top four of points. His average start of 9.6 and average finish of 12.9 are both bests in his four Cup Series seasons. He also led a career-high 599 laps.
While disappointed with Sunday’s unlucky outcome, Bell already has his sights set on redemption next season.
“I’m very proud of the effort put forth by our team to get to the Championship 4, but I do feel like we left a lot on the table at various races throughout the year,” Bell said. “I’m excited about the future. We haven’t reached our potential yet.”