NASCAR takeaways: Christopher Bell advances, incredible Ross Chastain move
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Christopher Bell pulled off another stunner to win and advance in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, but Ross Chastain took stunning to the next level in order to have a shot at the Cup championship next Sunday.
Chastain purposefully went full-send with his car in the final two turns, using the Martinsville Speedway wall to direct his car to go from 10th to fifth and get more than the two spots he needed on that lap to pass Denny Hamlin in the semifinal round standings and earn one of the four spots for the championship.
"I didn't know how it would all work out," said Chastain, who has never competed in the Cup playoffs before this year. "I didn't know if the physics would work to make it around the corner, but it did. I'm sure glad it did."
Chastain's final lap was 18.845 seconds. The fastest lap all day prior to then was 20.111 seconds around the 0.526-mile lap.
"I can't believe that I'm the guy driving that ... car, to be honest," Chastain said about looking at the video. "Honestly I can't believe it's me in there."
Takeaways from a wild elimination race:
Bell has another walk-off
Bell won the elimination race of the quarterfinal round at the Charlotte road course in early October with a four-tire stop late in the race that allowed him to come back for the win.
Three weeks later, he was the leader when the caution came out late and took four tires, restarting sixth with 24 laps to go. He was able to pass cars on older tires to take the lead from Briscoe — who didn't pit, as he also needed a win to advance — with five laps remaining.
"It's been a roller-coaster (of) emotions for sure," Bell said about his playoffs.
Bell felt better coming into Martinsville and his chances than he had three weeks earlier at Charlotte.
"Winning a race in the playoffs, especially the way that we did, it's like, ‘Wow,'" Bell said.
Hamlin comes up short
Hamlin thought he was in good shape near the finish, as he was two points (positions on the track) ahead of Chastain going into the final lap. But Chastain's move ended up leaving him a little flabbergasted.
"Great move," Hamlin said. "Brilliant. Certainly a great move. When you have no other choice, it certainly is easy to do that — but well-executed."
But it wasn't just Chastain's move that doomed Hamlin. Hamlin will also look at Martinsville and see another race that slipped away thanks to slow pit stops as he had a strong car, leading 203 of the 500 laps.
The other drivers who didn't advance can say they just got beat in this round.
William Byron never had a competitive car Sunday, starting 25th and finishing eighth thanks to a two-tire pit call on the final pit stop. He finished 21 points out of contention.
Ryan Blaney finished third Sunday but mistakes in the first two races in the round just put him in too deep of a hole, and he finished 26 points out of contention.
And Briscoe held on for as long as he could in trying to earn the win. He had a strong car but lost track position when his fueler couldn't disengage the gas can, and it slid into another pit box as Briscoe left pit road. Briscoe ended 57 points out of contention.
"I thought if the race was 10 less laps I was probably going to win, but I just fell off a cliff really hard there at the end," Briscoe said about the handling of his car on old tires. "It's unfortunate, but I had a shot."
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.