CONCORD, N.C. — After an afternoon of racing that was less than exhilarating, the final laps of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval redefined the meaning of chaos.
With some drivers racing for the win and others chasing a spot in the next round of the playoffs, much of the field was involved in one or more wrecks in the final six to eight laps before a charging Christopher Bell emerged with the win.
Bell, winning for the second time this year, picked up fresh tires on a late-race pit stop in an almost desperate shot at winning the race — his only chance to advance to the Round of 8. He zoomed through the field and won the race by 1.7 seconds over Kevin Harvick.
“I was the first one on new tires,” Bell told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I guess we’ll roll the dice and see what happens. When I got into Turn 1, my spotter did amazing job. They all started wrecking. That kept me out of the junk in Turn 1.”
Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens called the decision to go with four new tires late in the race “a do-or-die moment” and “pure desperation.” Bell became the sixth driver to win from below the cutline in an elimination race. “We hit a three-pointer at the buzzer,” Stevens said.
MORE: Charlotte Cup results
Bell’s surge was matched by that of Chase Briscoe, who charged forward over the final overtime laps to finish ninth and slip into the Round of 8.
Briscoe’s finish was assisted by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer, who was racing with drivers Briscoe probably needed to pass to finish high enough to stay in the playoffs. Custer appeared to brake on the back straight to slow other traffic and aid Briscoe’s charge. NASCAR announced after the race that it is reviewing “data, video and radio transmissions” from Custer’s team related to the final-lap action. NASCAR added that any penalties that might result from its investigation won’t impact the Round of 8 field. Custer finished 24th after starting the final lap in eighth.
Chase Elliott, shooting for a second straight win, had a four-second lead over AJ Allmendinger with six laps remaining when the caution flew because of debris — a sponsor sign fell off a wall in Turn 6 — on the track. That bunched the field for the closing miles.
Harvick moved to the front, and Elliott spun out after contact with Tyler Reddick as they raced for second place. Harvick pushed AJ Allmendinger aside for position.
With two laps to go, the field slowed again — and was eventually halted under the red flag — when several cars ran over a piece of turn siding and dislodged it.
In only a few minutes, a race that had seen lap after lap of single-file traffic coursing through the track’s 2.28 miles had dissolved into a wreckfest.
Striking among the results of the finish was the departure from the playoffs of defending series champion Kyle Larson, who damaged his car in a meeting with the wall and finished 35th. Also failing to advance to the next round were Daniel Suarez, Austin Cindric and Alex Bowman. Bowman has missed the past two races with concussion-like symptoms, leaving him with no chance to advance to the Round of 8.
Until the mayhem near the end, passing in the final race of the Round of 12 was very difficult, with positions changing most often in the first few laps after a restart. The leaders typically led large chunks of laps over long green-flag runs.
The race’s first two stages were largely devoid of drama as teams played different pit strategies in attempts to set up properly for the final stage.
Briscoe had issues after contact with another car on Lap 55 and spent much of the rest of the race trying to stay atop the cutline. His late-race surge pushed him in.
Suarez was slowed by power-steering problems and also struggled to try to stay in the playoff picture. He pitted for crew work with 27 laps to go. At about the same time, Ross Chastain, Suarez’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, slapped the wall and slowed. Chastain drove to the garage so his team could work on the rear of the car.
Suarez later ran into Corey LaJoie, sending LaJoie into a slide and leading to a tense post-race discussion.
Allmendinger, who won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the track, dominated the second stage, leading 18 laps and building a four-second lead near the stage end. He pitted, and Chastain ran to the stage win, leading Harrison Burton to the line. The stage points gained in importance for Chastain when he had issues later in the race.
Pole winner Joey Logano won the first stage, leading all 25 laps without a serious challenge.
Stage 1 winner: Joey Logano
Stage 2 winner: Ross Chastain
Who had a good race: Christopher Bell put together one of the finest late-race charges in recent years to win the race and a spot in the Round of 8. … Chase Briscoe banged around the cutline before mounting a surge of his own, finishing ninth and reaching the next round. … AJ Allmendinger won the second stage and threatened for the win at the end before finishing fourth.
Who had a bad race: Kyle Larson struggled and finished 35th after slapping the wall, ending his playoff run. … Daniel Suarez also departed the playoffs after an adventurous race resulted in a 36th-place finish. … Ryan Blaney moved along in the playoffs but was almost invisible Sunday, finishing 26th.
Next: The playoff Round of 8 is scheduled to begin Oct. 15 with a 3 p.m. (ET, NBC) race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Following in the round will be Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22) and Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 29).