NASCAR: Christopher Bell joins 'just missed' club with Phoenix win

Christopher Bell is the sixth driver to win at Phoenix Raceway before or after a win would have won him a NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR
Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR / Chris Graythen/GettyImages

Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell became the fourth different winner in four races to open up the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway, winning the Shriners Children's 500 to effectively lock up a spot in the playoffs for the fourth time in his four seasons behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota.

Bell is the only driver who has been to the Championship 4 in each of the last two seasons, and given the fact that he is responsible for the two largest clutch playoff victories in the history of the modern format (2014 to present), measured by starting distance to the cut line entering the cutoff race, he figures to have a pretty strong chance to make it three in a row.

Unfortunately for the 29-year-old Norman, Oklahoma native, had his victory at the four-turn, 1.0-mile (1.609-kilometer) Avondale, Arizona oval come one race earlier, he would already be a NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Believe it or not, there are already six drivers who fit into this group since the Championship 4 moved to Phoenix Raceway in 2020.

Six drivers have won at Phoenix Raceway the season before or after a win would have won them a NASCAR Cup Series championship. This stretch actually begins in 2019, when Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin won the November race there before it was the championship race. In 2020, he was one of the Championship 4 drivers, but he was unable to capture the title.

In March 2020, Team Penske's Joey Logano won what ended up being the final race before the 10-week break caused by pandemic-related restrictions. He made it back to Phoenix Raceway as a title contender that November also, but he too was unable to win the championship.

In March 2021, Joe Gibbs Racing's Martin Truex Jr. won at Phoenix Raceway, and he made it back to the track as one of the four championship eligible drivers, but he came up short.

Skip ahead to March 2023, when Hendrick Motorsports' William Byron won at Phoenix Raceway. But when he returned that November as a part of the Championship 4, he also came up short.

It was none other than Trackhouse Racing Team's Ross Chastain who won that November 2023 race, despite not being a championship eligible driver -- a first in the 10-year history of the Championship 4 format. But had he won it the year before, he would have been crowned champion, since he made it into the 2022 Championship 4.

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Now Bell has added his name to this list, having been a part of last year's Championship 4 but not ultimately emerging as the victor after being knocked out with a brake rotor failure. Will he be able to extend his series-long streak of appearances in the winner-take-all round in November and repeat his success from this Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway?