NASCAR Cup Series

Christopher Bell wins at Charlotte to advance; Larson, Cindric, Suarez eliminated

October 9

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

CONCORD, N.C. — Christopher Bell didn’t think he would pull off NASCAR’s version of a walk-off victory, but he did just that in a chaotic finish Sunday on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Bell seemed destined to finish seventh when a sign fell on the track with five laps remaining. He took fresh tires and was the first car off of pit road. He restarted 18th, but then was able to pass the bulk of the field before another caution put him in position to take the lead from Kevin Harvick on a restart of the overtime finish.

Having entered the race 45 points below the cutoff, Bell faced a must-win situation to advance to NASCAR’s semifinal playoff round, called the Round of 8. He did just that.

"It's crazy the amount of emotions that you go through," he said afterward.

Christopher Bell wins in walk-off victory at Charlotte Roval

Christopher Bell wins in a wild overtime victory at Charlotte as Kyle Larson is eliminated from the NASCAR postseason.

Bell's victory knocked out defending Cup champion Kyle Larson. Austin Cindric and Daniel Suarez also were eliminated, as was Alex Bowman, who missed the past two races because of a concussion.

Bell, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, William Byron and Chase Briscoe advanced to the next round. Briscoe had a wild final 10 laps, being safely in before the cautions and then falling behind the cutoff and needing to rally late.

Bob Pockrass reacts to Kyle Larson missing the Round of 8

Fast Thoughts with Bob Pockrass: A Kyle Larson mistake leads to him being eliminated by a unique set of circumstances, from Byron’s appeal win to a sign on the track.

NASCAR is investigating whether Briscoe’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Cole Custer, intentionally lost spots on the final lap, as he dropped from eighth to 24th. Any related penalties would not impact the semifinal round field.

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Here are three takeaways from the elimination race:

Defending champ out

Larson hit the wall and broke a suspension piece, which required fixes that led him to fall five laps down. He was safely in the playoffs until the last couple of cautions.

The team was telling him he was safe, but he didn’t feel that way and blamed himself afterward.

"I just made way too many mistakes all year long," said Larson, who has two wins this year. "I made another one today [and] ultimately cost us an opportunity to go chase another championship. Just extremely mad at myself."

Larson missed the cut by two points behind Briscoe.

Kyle Larson: 'All on me, and I've got to do better.'

Kyle Larson speaks after his elimination Sunday at the Charlotte Roval.

Bell's big win

If Bell hadn't won, he would've missed the cut, and Larson would've made the next round, as NASCAR’s playoffs reward a playoff driver who wins with a spot in the next round, no matter how many points he earned (or didn't) over the three races.

Bell is not considered a great road-course racer, but he won at the Daytona road course last year and is good at taking care of his equipment.

"Today we were not the fastest car, but we put ourselves in position," he said. "My crew chief made a great call to put tires on, and it worked out where we won the race."

Now Bell has new life in the playoffs, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is three points above the cutoff going into the semifinal round (Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville), which will determine the four drivers who vie for the championship in four weeks at Phoenix.

"We're still alive," Bell said. "That feels really good. I wouldn't have guessed that a week ago or even five hours ago. I like our chances. All the rest of the races play out really good for us."

Christopher Bell reacts to his win to advance at Charlotte

Christopher Bell reacts to his win to advance to the Round of 8 of the NASCAR postseason.

Cindric, Suarez frustrated

Suarez entered the race 12 points up on the cutline, but he lost power steering during the race and fell off the pace. He thought it was likely a team issue, and he was disappointed not to capitalize on what was expected to be one of his best tracks.

"The second half of the race was probably the most difficult race I’ve driven in my life, but it is what it is," he said. "Unfortunately, me as a driver, that’s something that’s out of my control."

Cindric lost track position in the second stage and couldn’t recover in the difficult-to-pass race. He had a chance late, but in trying to gain the needed position on the final laps, he was involved in some carnage and finished 13 spots behind the cutoff.

"I didn’t get myself clear, and it was just a mess on the back chicane, so overall, definitely some things I feel like we could have done better to execute today," he said.

Austin Cindric left Charlotte disappointed

Austin Cindric talks about his failure to advance to the next round of the NASCAR playoffs.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.


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