Christopher Bell clinches playoff spot with win in New Hampshire

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

LOUDON, N.H. — Christopher Bell took one of the best cars he has had all season and combined that with one of his best tracks to earn a spot in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Bell passed Chase Elliott with 42 laps remaining and never looked back in capturing the victory Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was in danger of missing the playoffs if someone behind him in points won a race in the regular season. But his victory Sunday, barring a complete collapse and several new winners over the final six regular-season races, put him in the playoffs.

“It’s been stressful,” said Bell, who finished second in the Cup race at NHMS a year ago and has three Xfinity wins at the track. “After the first couple of races of the year, I kind of wrote off pointing our way into the championship.

“We had a stretch of really good races and kind of turned it around to where we might be able to [get in on points]. And then you’ve got guys who kept winning.”

Christopher Bell plays spoiler, wins at New Hampshire

Christopher Bell plays spoiler, wins at New Hampshire

Christopher Bell plays spoiler and wins at New Hampshire to lock himself into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

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Here are three takeaways from Bell’s victory.

Bell’s relief is Truex’s frustration

Bell’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. swept the first two stages of the race and looked poised to win, which would’ve kept him from sweating the playoffs.

But a two-tire stop with about 95 laps remaining got Truex mired in traffic, and his car lost its handling.

“It was nothing like it had been all day long,” he said. “I couldn’t go anywhere. … It’s disappointing for us to give it away like that.”

Truex is fourth in the points standings but currently on the playoff bubble. He’ll find himself out of the 16-driver playoff field if a winless driver behind him in points wins in the final six regular-season races and he doesn’t win or pass winless Ryan Blaney (third in the standings, 37 points ahead of Truex) in the standings.

“It is what it is,” Truex said. “If another guy wins, then we’re out. It’s just the way it is.

“We race every week and try to win races, and lately, we’ve been capable. … For whatever reason, that third [and final] stage, we muck it up.”

Chase Elliott frustrated, too

Elliott thought he let a potential win slip through his hands Sunday.

“I should never have given up the lead in the first place, in my opinion. … He just did a better job driving,” Elliott said. “He probably could have won the race in my car.”

That might not be totally accurate. Bell said he thought he had the best car on a green-flag run longer than 40 laps.

“You are only as good as your race car,” he said. “If your race car is fast, and you have a first-place car, it’s pretty easy to get to first as long as you do your job. … I had a first-place race car at the end of that race. I did my job to maximize that.”

Wallace a solid third

Bubba Wallace had a solid third-place finish after running among the top 10 for most of the day. In a season in which Wallace and his team seem to stumble at the most inopportune times, this was a welcome result.

“We’ve had a lot of speed all year, and we’ve had cars capable of that,” Wallace said. “So it’s finally good to see that come to fruition. … We did excellent today. I’m proud of everybody. But you can always do better, right?”

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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