1737844373 | Getty Images
1737844373 | Getty Images

Late-race charge: Christopher Bell comes just short of securing a Championship 4 spot

By Dustin Albino

It all came down to a matter of feet. 

Christopher Bell won his fourth pole of the postseason – and sixth overall in 2023 – on Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He maintained track position during the entirety of the South Point 400, tallying a total of 17 stage points. The No. 20 car was clearly among the best cars on Sunday. 

During a 45-lap run to the finish, Bell battled Brad Keselowski for a chunk of the time, unable to clear the No. 6 Ford for second position. As the two fought for position, Kyle Larson, who led a race-high 133 laps, scooted away by over two seconds.

Bell finally cleared Keselowski midway through the sprint to the finish, 1.5 seconds behind Larson with 15 laps remaining. Continuously, Bell would chop a tenth of a second off here, another tenth there. With four laps remaining, the No. 20 Toyota was within a half-second of Larson for the lead. 

Using momentum from the top groove off Turns 3 and 4, Bell made a charge down the frontstretch to close the gap on Larson. When the two took the white flag, Bell remained three-tenths of a second behind Larson. Then, he got a huge run off Turn 4. As Larson drifted up in front of Bell, he faked high and made a move to the bottom. 

It wasn’t enough. Bell finished second, with an official margin of victory of .082 seconds. 

“I don’t know what else I could have done,” Bell told NBC Sports after climbing from his No. 20 car. “I feel like that was my moment. That was my moment to make the Final Four. Didn’t quite capture it.

“Coming to the checkered there, I knew that [Larson] was going to be blocking, so I’m like I’m going to try to go high. He went high. I don’t even know if I had a run to get by him there coming to the line. Just wasn’t enough.”

In earning his fourth win of the 2023 season, Larson locked up one of the spots into the Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway next month. 

“Thankfully Christopher always races extremely clean,” Larson said. “Could have got crazier than it did coming to the start-finish line. Thank you to him for racing with respect there. 

Bell leaves Sin City fifth on the playoff grid, three points below the elimination line. He trails his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin, who are tied for third. William Byron has a nine-point buffer over Bell. 

Bell gained one spot in the standings and six points on the elimination line. Yet his 52 points earned is tied with his win at the Bristol dirt race for the second-most points he has accumulated in a single race this season, and trails only the 54 points he totaled in the playoff race at Bristol. 

“A great day for sure to get the stage points, get a second-place finish out of it,” Bell added. “I think I saw we’re minus two, so we’re not out of it by any means. It would have been nice to lock it in.”

The Round of 8 wraps up at Homestead-Miami and Martinsville. Bell had a single top 10 in three Homestead starts and struggled at the track in the Xfinity Series. The No. 20 team scored a walk-off win at Martinsville last season to clinch a spot into the championship race at Phoenix.