By Dustin Albino

With two straight third-place finishes at Texas Motor Speedway, Christopher Bell entered the Round of 12 as a pre-race favorite for Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. If his tires could hang on.

The trend of Bell blowing tires during the 2022 season continued at Texas. In a race that had seven tire failures, the No. 20 car blew two of them, with the first coming on lap 77. Still, Bell was able to rebound and was solidly running inside the top 10.

While maintaining a seventh-place running position, Bell blew a right rear tire on lap 136. This time it was much worse, as the No. 20 Toyota backed into the wall, ending his shot of a fourth straight top-five finish, which dates back to the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway.

Bell finished 34th, earning a whopping three points.

“To have two right rears go in the first half of the race is very strange,” Bell told a group of media at Texas. “It‘s a very disappointing day.”

Prior to spinning, Bell had little notice that he had a flat tire.

“I would get a slight vibration seconds right before the tire went,” he said. “When it happened on the straightaway, I was able to get it slowed down before Turn 1, but the second one happened right in the middle of the turn.

“I was optimistic when they dropped the green flag. I had a pretty poor Saturday, but felt like we had a lot of speed. Unfortunately, tires didn‘t work our way.”

Not the day we wanted. Got our work cut out for us. No quit on this team.

— Christopher Bell (@CBellRacing) September 26, 2022

With Alex Bowman wrecking early in the race and finishing 29th, Bell wasn’t the lone playoff driver to have a disappointing result. Chase Elliott also had a tire failure less than 50 laps after Bell, dropping to 32nd in the finishing order. Austin Cindric spun late in the race, but still finished a respectable 15th.

Going into Talladega, the middle race in the Round of 12, Bell sits 11th in the championship standings, 29 markers below the cutline. The cutline is currently held by Elliott, the regular season champion. Bowman is the only driver lower than Bell in points on the playoff grid, at 30 points back.

Bell was hoping to leave Texas with a points buffer, just having to ride around and survive Talladega next weekend. Instead, he will need to contend in the lead pack and chase stage points. At Daytona last month, he wrecked out early in the event while running inside the top 10.

“Talladega — I guess we are going to go roll the dice. ROVAL, I think we will be alright,” Bell said of how he approaches the next two weeks. “Road courses haven‘t been our strength, but we have been good at a couple of them. I don‘t know if we are going to be able to get out of this points hole, but we will give it our best.”

“I probably feel better about having something go our way at Talladega.”

In five Cup Series starts at Talladega, Bell has one top-10 finish (fifth, last fall) and an average finish of 22.4. In April, he met that average finish, placing 22nd.

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