Championship 4 field set after thrilling Martinsville race

Christopher Bell duplicated his heroics from three weeks ago by racing to the checkers in the NASCAR Cup Series’ Round of 8 playoff finale, winning Sunday’s wild Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s triumph set the Championship 4 field for next Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. The 27-year-old Bell will be joined in the title hunt in the desert by Joey Logano, Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott.

The latter two made it in by four points over Denny Hamlin, who dominated most of the event.

“Mom and Dad, we did it!” said an emotional Bell, who notched his third win of 2022 and No. 200 for JGR. “I can’t believe it, man. To come here to Martinsville, which has been so tough on me. I don’t even know what to say.”

Bell’s win looked eerily similar to his victory three races ago when he came home first at the Charlotte Roval, staving off elimination and moving on to the Round of 8.

Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowksi and Chastain completed the top-5 finishers.

While Bell’s clutch October performance will go down in history, the 500-lap race will be equally remembered for one of the craziest moves ever in NASCAR by a desperate Chastain on his last time around the half-mile venue.

While running 10th and out of the playoff picture, Chastain floored his No. 1 Chevrolet, put it against the backstretch wall and rode it full speed around the next five cars — which were braking in Turns 3 and 4.

His Camaro actually passed Hamlin coming to the checkers – stealing a position on the track and one of the four prized spots in the Championship 4.

“I played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the GameCube growing up and you could get away with it, but I never knew it would actually work,” said Chastain, who trailed Hamlin by two points coming to the white flag. “I did that when I was eight years old.

“Once I got to the (backstretch) wall, I hoped I just didn’t catch the Turn 4 access gate or something crazy, but I was willing to do it.”

“It was a video game move off into Turn 3!” shrieked NBC commentator Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Chastain passed Hamlin at the stripe

Added Hamlin, who finished sixth: “It was a great move, brilliant.”

In Stage 1, polesitter Larson led the way for the majority, but Hamlin slid his No. 11 Toyota under Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet with nine laps to go and claimed 10 bonus playoff points.

Hamlin led them all in Stage 2 and grabbed another 10 points. Elliott again finished second, followed by Bell (fifth), Blaney (sixth) and Chastain (ninth) among championship-eligible drivers.

Hamlin earned 20 stage bonus points to Chastain’s four to set up the latter’s last-lap, daredevil maneuver.