Christopher Bell locks up championship spot with Homestead win
Here are some takeaways from the playoff race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A thin line between success and failure
There is a reason why the teams compete until the checkered flag waves. The situation can always change — for better or worse.
Just look at the final stage of Sunday’s playoff race. Kyle Larson had won the opening stage, finished third in stage 2 and had led 96 laps. He was running in second behind Ryan Blaney as they headed to pit road for their final green flag pit stops.
Larson hit the barrels of sand that sit at the entrance of pit road. This damaged his Chevrolet to the point that he could not continue in the race. He finished 34th.
A mere 23 laps after Larson hit the barrels, Denny Hamlin slammed into the outside wall while fighting Ryan Blaney for third. He went from being in contention for a top-five finish and the potential win to finishing 30th.
One lap after Hamlin hit the wall, Martin Truex Jr. headed to pit road with an engine issue. He finished 29th and joined Hamlin below the cutline heading to elimination race at Martinsville.
Larson already has a spot in the Championship 4, so the crash will not impact his title hopes. Hamlin and Truex, for comparison, both went from above the cutline to below it. They are both behind Tyler Reddick.
The difference between a must-win situation and a spot in the Championship 4
As Jason Nesmith from the movie “Galaxy Quest” once said, “never give up, never surrender.”
This is a message that rang true on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Christopher Bell was out of contention for the win — or even a top-10 finish — during stage 2 and for a portion of the final stage. He was battling an ill-handling car while running outside of the top 15.
As Bell said during his post-race interview with NBC Sports, he was ready to throw in the towel while dealing with frustrating circumstances. If he had done so, he would have fallen into must-win territory heading to next weekend’s elimination race at Martinsville.
Bell’s team did not give up, nor did they surrender. They continued to make adjustments and ultimately put Bell back in the top five on Lap 221. Once he was there, he took advantage.
Bell went out, took the lead from William Byron and then he held off Blaney. He scored his first win at Homestead and punched his ticket to the Championship 4 for the second consecutive season.
Non-playoff drivers continue performing at Homestead
The battle for spots in the Championship 4 was the dominant storyline on Sunday as expected. However, it covered up some strong performances by two non-playoff drivers.
Austin Dillon, who has struggled all season long, was very consistent on Sunday. He qualified sixth and then scored points in the first two stages. Dillon went on to finish 10th.
This was Dillon’s second top 10 at Homestead of the Next Gen era. It was his ninth straight finish of 14th or better at the 1.5-mile oval. Dillon has finished all 10 races he has started at Homestead and 100% of the possible laps while securing an average finish of 11.4.
AJ Allmendinger was not in the conversation during the first two stages at Homestead but he worked his way into the top five on the final run to the checkered flag. He finished fifth in what was his second straight top-five finish at Homestead.
Allmendinger has made 12 starts at Homestead in his Cup career. He has only failed to finish one while posting an average finish of 15.5. Allmendinger has five top-10 finishes and three top fives.