UPDATE: Brad Keselowski – who finished fourth in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Martinsville Speedway – has been disqualified by NASCAR for failing to meet post-race minimum weight requirements.
Ross Chastain will now be credited with fourth place, while Denny Hamlin will earn a top-five finish. Joey Logano, William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, and Chase Elliott will complete the top-10.
Brad Keselowski will be credited with a 36th-place finish.
For something of this magnitude to happen once is already extremely difficult, but to pull it off twice, and in a single season at that, is pretty much unheard of. So, it’s a shame that it will be overshadowed by the final-lap calamity that took place on Sunday.
In a way it’s almost poetic, though, considering that’s how Christopher Bell’s entire season, and possibly career, has played out to this point, with the Norman, Oklahoma-native always being the quiet driver laying in the weeds.
Now, on two different occasions, only separated by three weeks, the 27-year-old has kept himself alive in the hunt for his first championship in the NASCAR Cup Series, in his third year of full-time competition.
The chance to hoist the Bill France Cup at Phoenix Raceway next weekend was presented to Bell due to an excellent pit call by Adam Stevens, Bell’s crew chief, in addition to a masterful drive by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
Electing to come down pit road, from the lead, after a late-race caution, Stevens instructed the No. 20 team to place four sticker tires on Bell’s DeWalt Toyota Camry TRD, which had him restarting outside the top five.
Taking tires proved to be the right call, as Bell was able to storm through the pack and position himself inside the top three, as Brad Keselowski went to work on the race-leader at the time, Chase Briscoe.
When Keselowski and Briscoe, who was in a must-win situation similar to Bell’s, got to battle for the lead, Bell was able to sneak through the full-contact racing to take over the lead with five laps to go.
Bell would eventually cross the start-finish line with the victory at the conclusion of the race’s 500-lap distance, with an advantage of over nine-tenths of a second over defending series champion Kyle Larson, who finished in the runner-up spot.
But, multiple seconds behind the leaders was where the real action took place on the final lap. Running at the tail-end of the top-10, Ross Chastain entered the final lap of the race two points behind Denny Hamlin for the final spot in the ‘Championship Four’.
Chastain wasn’t willing to accept that fate lightly, though, as he decided to stand on the throttle and ride the outside wall around turns three and four, which propelled him from a potential 10th-place finish, to a result inside the top-five, and a spot in the ‘Championship Four’.
Ryan Blaney finished the race in third place, although it wasn’t enough to advance the Team Penske driver to Phoenix, with Brad Keselowski recovering from a spin earlier in the race to finish in fourth.
Denny Hamlin came home in sixth, one spot behind Ross Chastain, who somehow gained four to five spots with that move. Joey Logano finished in seventh, with William Byron, Bubba Wallace, and Chase Briscoe rounding out the top-10.
Chase Elliott came home with an 11th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway, but had the points necessary to lock himself into the ‘Championship Four’, where he’ll join Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, and Ross Chastain as the title contenders.
It will be difficult to follow the ending to Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, but they’ll certainly make an attempt at it for the season-finale at Phoenix Raceway, where the ‘Championship Four’ will duke it out for the title.