Fresh challenge ahead for Cup Series rookie Bell

Image by Kinrade/LAT

Fresh challenge ahead for Cup Series rookie Bell

NASCAR

Fresh challenge ahead for Cup Series rookie Bell

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Christopher Bell admits he is reluctant to change.

Bell, 24, likes his routine and had a tough week going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month knowing all the ‘lasts’ he would be experiencing with his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

But the young Oklahoman has known for a while he’ll be competing in the big leagues next year, and now that the 2019 season is over, and the awards banquet behind him, the vibe that he’s no longer an Xfinity Series driver is all the more real.

“I’m nervous about it, but I’m very thankful that (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff (pictured at right, above) is going with me because he’s kind of my rock in this deal,” said Bell of his recently announced move into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. “He’s the guy that’s going to bring me comfort in the Cup Series.”

For the last two years, Bell has been one of the best wheelmen in the Xfinity Series. In 74 starts, he won 16 times, had 46 top-10 finishes and led 2,920 laps.

“It’s been great,” Bell said of his NXS tenure. “If you take out the two Homestead races, it would have been outstanding. Unfortunately, Homestead is a very important race and we obviously couldn’t get it done there.”

Bell finished fourth in points in 2018 and was third this year. The lack of a championship on his resume is “definitely disappointing,” but Bell understands the format of a one-race showdown.

Homestead was the No. 20 Toyota team’s Achilles heel the last two years. Fighting the same issues in both races — not knowing what he needs to be comfortable when the tires begin to fall off — was a hindrance in being able to contend with Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer.

Leavine Family Racing will have Bell’s services next year in the No. 95 Toyota. After taking some time off in late November, Bell said December is when he plans on hitting the preparation hard. His Cup Series debut will be in the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 16.

Bell takes over the No. 95 LFR Toyota in 2020. Image by Harrelson/LAT

Getting to know the people and the ins and outs of the LFR shop in Concord, North Carolina, is on Bell’s to-do list. But again, Bell reiterated the importance of his boss staying the same in Ratcliff, a six-year veteran of the Cup Series garage who earned 15 career wins.

Change will also bring new challenges for Bell.

“Just learning how to distance race,” he said. “Moving to the trucks was extremely difficult, but then kind of seemed like I was able to get that figured out. Then going to Xfinity was another step, and it was difficult at first, and that’s going to be a huge jump going to the Cup Series.”

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