In desperate need of a good performance to keep his shot at a Championship Four appearance alive, Christopher Bell was running a distant 19th in the middle of today's NASCAR Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. At risk of going a lap down, his crew told him that he needed to fight to keep ahead of the leader. Bell then responded with a simple, sharp "Okay, I'll start trying." What followed saved his season.
Seven of the eight drivers left alive in the playoffs found themselves in the top five at one tie or another over the final 70 laps of the day, but the veteran drivers in the group all fell out of contention in quick succession. First Kyle Larson, already locked into the next round, found the sand barriers in an odd pit lane entry incident while fighting Ryan Blaney for the lead. Denny Hamlin's steering then failed during the green flag run that followed, causing him to crash hard into the outside wall in a one-car incident. Under that caution, Martin Truex Jr. suddenly retired with an engine failure. With Chris Buescher well outside of contention throughout the day and Christopher Bell resurgent after his early struggles, that set up a four-car battle for the win between the remaining championship contenders.
William Byron led off the pit lane. Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell followed in second and third, while Tyler Reddick sat further back in the top ten. Byron cleared Blaney on the restart, but Bell caught and passed Blaney first and then Byron over the next dozen laps. As Reddick climbed up to fourth, Blaney surged again and Byron faded. Bell would grab the win and the second spot in the championship four, followed by Blaney, Reddick, and Byron.
With one race remaining in the round of eight, six drivers are left to fight over just two spots in next weekend's race at Martinsville. Byron's massive haul of playoff points earlier in the season give him a distinct advantage at 30 points over the cut line, followed by Blaney who is ten points to the good after his disqualification last weekend was overturned a day later. Reddick leads the group trying to break into the Championship Four at ten points back of Blaney, followed by veterans Hamlin and Truex at 17 points back each.
While all five drivers in that group have a legitimate shot of either making or missing the field on points next weekend, Chris Buescher's 43 point deficit to Blaney means that he will likely have to win the race if he wants his career-best season to continue onto Phoenix. If any of the six drivers win, the other five will be left to fight for just one spot available to drivers on points.
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