Christopher Bell wins NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville

Christopher Bell dominated the second half and won Sunday’s 500-lap NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Martinsville Speedway to claim a spot in the Championship Four Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

Bell, who advanced to the final four for the first time, faced a must-win situation Sunday and came through.

Bell’s victory was almost overshadowed by a last-gasp, last-lap dash by Ross Chastain, who bulled his way through the field and along the outside wall to edge Denny Hamlin for the last playoff spot.

Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Bell and Chastain will race for the title in Phoenix. The highest finisher of the four will win the Cup championship. Logano qualified for the Phoenix four by winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The other three finalists qualified Sunday.

Bell was leading Ryan Blaney by a few car lengths with 34 laps to go when Landon Cassill crashed to bring out the caution flag. The leaders pitted for tires, but Chase Briscoe, who needed a win to stay in the playoffs, stayed on track, hoping to keep track position with older tires.

Briscoe eventually lost the lead to the drivers with fresher tires.

Surprisingly for the tight confines of Martinsville, much of the race was run without cautions (other than those at stage ends). This resulted in most of the field being at least a lap behind the leaders by the end of Stage 2. The first “non-stage” caution occurred on lap 274 when Chastain pushed Brad Keselowski into the outside wall.

The chances of Briscoe reaching the final four declined considerably when he was sent to the rear of the field for removing equipment. During a pit stop at the end of Stage 1, his gas can wound up in another pit stall.

Kyle Larson led 68 laps and Elliott 52 in the first stage, but Hamlin charged to the front with 10 laps left and won the stage. Hamlin also won the second stage. Hamlin led 140 of the race’s first 260 laps.

Stage 1 winner: Denny Hamlin

Stage 2 winner: Denny Hamlin

Next: The NASCAR Cup Series champion will be decided in the season finale Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

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