Auto racing roundup: Cup Series final four set; F1’s Max Verstappen wins again

AP photo by Chuck Burton / Ross Chastain races ahead of Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez out of the fourth turn at Martinsville Speedway during Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series playoff race in Virginia.

Ross Chastain's aggressive style hasn't made him a lot of friends in NASCAR's top series, but he'll be contending for a Cup Series championship because of that relentless approach.

Chastain pinned his Chevrolet against the outside wall at 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway and was sailing at some 70 mph faster than the rest of the field, careening from 10th place to fifth on the final lap Sunday to give Trackhouse Racing its first chance to race for a title at season's end.

Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell won his way into one of the four championship-eligible spots for next weekend's season finale at Phoenix Racway, while Chastain used a move more suited for a video game to also advance in Sunday's thriller on the short track known as the Paperclip.

Chastain credited playing video games in the past for the dramatic move on the final lap.

"Oh, played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the (Nintendo) GameCube with (younger brother) Chad growing up," he said. "You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work.

"I mean, I did that when I was 8 years old. ... I couldn't tell who was leading. I made the choice, grabbed fifth gear down the back. Full committed. Basically let go of the wheel, hoping I didn't catch the turn four access gate or something crazy. But I was willing to do it."

Bell had to win to be one of the final four at Phoenix, and he pulled it off to give JGR and Toyota a championship chance in the finale. Bell also won on Charlotte Motor Speedway's Roval course in the final race of the second round of the playoffs, so he has now twice advanced with victories this postseason.

This win was different, though.

"Man, I say it all the time, but the driver is just a small piece of the puzzle for these races," Bell said. "The reason why this car won today is because it was the best car on the race track. Adam Stevens, Tyler William, this entire 20 group, they just never give up. When our back is against the wall, looks like it's over, they show up and give me the fastest car out here.

"I don't know, man. Words can't describe this feeling."

Of the eight drivers who were still in the playoffs heading to Martinsville, only Team Penske's Joey Logano was assured of a title-eligible spot in Phoenix, thanks to his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago to open the third round of the playoffs.

In addition to Bell, he'll be joined in the title clash by Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott — the Chevy driver won the 2020 Cup Series title and was the regular-season champ this year — and Chastain, who bumped foe Denny Hamlin from the potential final four with his spectacular last-lap scramble.

Hamlin, while disappointed, was impressed.

"Brilliant. Certainly a great move," he said of Chastain's tactic. "When you have no other choice, it certainly is easy to do that. But well executed."

Bell passed Chase Briscoe, who also needed to win to advance, with five laps to go to earn the automatic berth. It was Bell who was caught in Bubba Wallace's retaliation against Kyle Larson at Las Vegas, and Bell being collected in that crash dropped him to last of the eight drivers.

The 27-year-old Bell, in his third full season on the top circuit and second with JGR, had known since then it would almost certainly take a victory for him to race for his first title, and he pulled it off on NASCAR's oldest track.

F1: Verstappen has record all to himself

MEXICO CITY — It didn't take long for it to become clear that 2022 would be a year in which Max Verstappen not only repeated as Formula One champion, but one in which he was astonishingly dominant.

Along the way, it became clear the Red Bull driver would set the international open-wheel series' record for single-season wins, too.

It was never a question of if the 25-year-old Dutchman would win 14 races. It was only a question of when.

Now there's a new one to ponder: By how much will Verstappen ultimately shatter the mark he shared for all of one week?

Verstappen set the F1 record Sunday at the Mexico City Grand Prix with his 14th of the season, breaking the mark set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 and tied by Sebastian Vettel it 2013.

Verstappen had tied the German greats seven days earlier by winning the United States GP at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Paired with wins at Miami, Montreal and now Mexico City, Verstappen swept the North American portion of this year's F1 schedule.

Just another day for him.

"I was never really interested in stats," Verstappen said. "I always just live in the moment. I try to do the best I can every single weekend. I try to win races, and that is the most important thing. I am not that interested in keeping up with every stat. It is amazing season, and we are happy to be winning."

Verstappen repeated as F1 champion by winning the Japanese GP on Oct. 9 with four races remaining in the season, clinched the constructors championship for Red Bull with the Texas triumph, and now has two races left to thoroughly demolish the single-season wins record.

Red Bull has won nine consecutive races, tying the team record set in 2013. The team has won 16 of 21 F1 races this season with Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who won at Monaco and Singapore.

Lewis Hamilton finished second for the second consecutive week. The seven-time series champion might have had a shot at his first win of the season, but Mercedes made the wrong call on a tire change that gave Verstappen control.

Perez finished third on his home track for the second consecutive year, earning deafening cheers even though a Mexican driver has yet to win at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Perez was mobbed by adoring fans throughout his return, and before the race, he took a ride around the track on the back of a convertible Volkswagen. He often held his hand to his heart to show his appreciation to the 120,000-plus fans.

"It's been incredible, honestly," Perez told the crowd in Spanish after the race. "Thank you for all the support you've given me this weekend. You're incredible, the best fan base. Thank you."

The three-day weekend sold out in two minutes earlier this year, and the three-day crowd of 395,902 broke the mark set last year of 371,779. F1 also said ahead of the race that it had extended its contract with the race — often voted most popular among fans — through 2025.

The day belonged to Verstappen, who started from the pole position and won for the 34th time in his career.

Hamilton has two more chances, Nov. 13 in Brazil and Nov. 20 in Abu Dhabi, to avoid the first winless season of his career.