“Christopher Bell is the clear NASCAR Xfinity Series championship favorite.”
“He’s going to be dominant in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.”
“It won’t take long for him to pick up where he left off in the Truck Series.”
Coming into the 2018 season, you might have heard such praise heaped upon Bell. After capturing the ’17 CWTS title in just his second full season, it was only natural Bell would have a hasty move up the NASCAR ladder.
But midway through his rookie Xfinity Series season, the driver of the No. 20 has been just another face in the crowd. Bell did get to Victory Lane in Richmond for what is, surprisingly, his only win of the season. On the other hand, Bell has as many poles as he does DNFs (three), 216 laps led and is fourth in the point standings.
“I guess looking back at my season right now, am I disappointed with it? Not really,” Bell said when asked if the season has gone how he thought it would. “I hoped that I would have won a couple more times by now, but we’ve been really fast. Almost every single racetrack we go to, we’ve had race cars that are – obviously, driving for Gibbs we have race cars that are competing for wins, and I’ve got a lot of great runs going.
“But kind of similar to my first year in trucks, I just have crashed some, got taken out some, and the finishes are either really good or DNFs. I’ve just got to put the races together, and hopefully, it comes together pretty quick.”
Considering all of that and the emotions that come with it, Bell has found the hardest part of NASCAR racing is managing the highs and lows. For instance, growing up sprint car racing, Bell is used to being behind the wheel 100-plus times a year and multiple times a week. If something were to go wrong, a crash or mechanical failure, he had the opportunity to move forward quickly. Fewer races means more time to think about the previous race.
“I would be racing the next day or three days later, five days later, whereas especially in the Truck Series, we ran 20 times a year, so sometimes I’d have a month off after a race,” said Bell. “And even in the Xfinity Series, if I crash on Saturday, I dwell on that, right? It sits on me, and it weighs on me until the next time you get in the race car.
“That’s why I think it’s important for me to be able to [still] run other disciplines of motorsports, and that way I can clear my head. I get to race more and not dwell on my bad finishes, and the good finishes speak for themselves. But that’s been the hardest part for me is managing racing more to overcome things.”
Bell is second on the playoff grid going into the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. He has seven playoff points to Justin Allgaier’s eight. Neither leads the overall point standings, though. Winless Cole Custer is the new man atop the series after a top-five run last weekend, and if Custer can hang on to the spot through the end of the regular season, he’ll be awarded 15 playoff points.
The playoffs do not start until Sept. 21 at Richmond, and Bell says it’s too early to be thinking about the postseason. However, Bell already has an eye on Custer.
“I look at Custer as my biggest competition,” said Bell. “On the Cup side, Stewart‑Haas is excellent, and on the Xfinity side, it seems to be the same thing. Custer is really fast, but I think we’re right there with him. It’s going to be a battle of who can maximize their opportunities and be there at the end.
“The championship is something that’s going to be really tough.”