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It was all setting up to be a painful exit for Christopher Bell in the Round of 8. One week after just missing a win at Las Vegas, Bell was running 23rd at the end of Stage 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and in danger of getting lapped.

"We need to fight hard," crew chief Adam Stevens said over the radio. "To try to stay on this lead lap."

"OK," Bell said sarcastically. "I'll start trying now."

"Felt like home," Stevens joked after being paired for years with one of NASCAR's biggest bad boys, Kyle Busch. "Sometimes, you got to tell them things they don't want to hear, and sometimes, they're going to tell you things maybe you don't want to hear. Part of it."

One stage later, Bell couldn't apologize enough for what Stevens did in response to his temper.

Adjust the No. 20 right into a trip to victory lane.

"It was just incredible," Bell explained, "The difference a couple pit stop adjustments will do to your car."

Some major fixes sent Bell flying to the front in a final stage that appeared to favor Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin. After pitting slightly off sequence all day, Hamlin found himself battling with Ryan Blaney out front after an unexpected caution in the middle of green-flag stops. The two fought tooth and nail on the restart, Hamlin on the inside scrubbing off speed. Bell, who gained track position with the timing of the yellow, jumped to third and had a moment where he could have pushed his teammate down the backstretch.

Instead, he just passed them both.

"I certainly thrive on pressure and I love it," Bell said. "I live for those type of moments."

Will we look back and say it also symbolized a changing of the guard at JGR? Just a few laps later, Hamlin wrecked himself following close-quarter racing gone wrong that aggravated Blaney. Falling outside the top four spots in points, the 42-year-old wound up consoled by crew chief Chris Gabehart over another potential title shot slipping away.

Hamlin's issue came just before regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr. joined him inside the garage. The 43-year-old blew an engine, the seventh time in eighth playoff races he's finished outside the top 15.

Who knows how many more chances this duo will have at a title? By comparison, the 29-year-old Bell has made his second consecutive Championship 4, collecting five wins the last two seasons as he grows into the bona fide superstar capable of carrying JGR for years to come.

Good thing crew chief Stevens didn't hear that complaining over the radio and give up.

"I think Adam has done a great job of bringing [Bell] along," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "I think [Bell's] got great confidence in Adam. That certainly helps.

"I told [Adam] we'll put a saddle on Christopher and ride him for 20 years."

Traffic Report

Green: Ryan Blaney. Leading 53 laps and settling for runner-up just one week after his Las Vegas disqualification controversy is no small feat for the lone Team Penske driver still standing. Holding a 10-point edge on his closest competition and nine straight top-11 Martinsville finishes, Blaney sits on the doorstep of his first ever Championship 4.

Yellow: Kevin Harvick. An 11th-place run at a race named for the retiring Harvick was the second-best finish of these playoffs for Stewart-Haas Racing's No. 4 team. Running the iconic Budweiser scheme in the 4EVER 400 was a nice touch and brought back memories of his 2014 championship season.

But the 47-year-old wants to end his career with a win and time is running out. He's led just 134 laps all season and hasn't scored a top-five finish since Pocono Raceway in July.

Red: Harrison Burton. A contract extension into 2024 combined with a crew chief swap at the start of the playoffs was supposed to be a vote of confidence for the sophomore. Unfortunately, it did nothing to stop Burton's season-long slump. Homestead marked the fourth DNF of these playoffs without any finish higher than 20th for the Wood Brothers Ford operation.

Speeding Ticket: Homestead's place on the schedule. Sunday's race was arguably the best on a 1.5-mile intermediate track during the playoffs, breathing fresh air into a postseason marked by audience and TV ratings declines.

That competition is why HMS was the site of the championship finale for 16 years: 2004-19, before NASCAR made a pivot to Phoenix. It's not that the one-mile oval is bad, but HMS has provided outstanding racing only upgraded by a Next Gen car that specializes in intermediate success.

The hope is NASCAR will reconsider down the road. In the meantime, HMS is sure making a case to make the swap.


Kyle Larson was in contention for a second straight win at a Homestead track he dominates. Winning the first stage, he ceded the second one to Ryan Blaney and spent much of the final stage chasing the No. 12 Ford.

Larson knew the final round of pit stops were crucial to earning another victory. So as both drivers ducked down pit road, he came in hard to close the gap.

Turns out it was a little too hot to handle, forcing him to hit the Miami beach a little bit early.

"I was just trying to maximize my pit-in," Larson said. "And honestly, I felt like I was doing a really good job. I just didn't anticipate [Blaney] slowing down as much as he did. But on the replay, it looked like I just missed it by a lot."

It was no harm, no foul for Larson who earned a spot in the Championship 4 with his win last week. Crew chief Cliff Daniels, though, made sure to hold a team meeting after the incident to ensure it was quickly put behind them.