Christopher Bell’s triumph last Sunday afternoon on the Daytona road course was extra special for Toyota, according to TRD president David Wilson.
Bell won his first NASCAR Cup Series race in his 38th start. It was only his second start in the No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.
The partnership between Bell and Toyota goes back 10 years to when Bell was still running dirt. With Toyota, Bell has transitioned to stock cars and pavement racing, winning at each level along the way. That includes the Camping World Truck Series championship in 2017, and 15 Xfinity Series race wins between 2018 and ’19.
According to Wilson, a victory at the Cup level makes Bell “our first development driver that came all the way from dirt to winning at the highest level of North American motorsports, and a big part of the reason he’s there is Toyota and because of the belief we put in him. His family does not have the resources, and that’s why we invest and will continue to invest.”
It’s been a few years now since the Toyota driver development program started earning regular attention. Bell is just one of the drivers who have made it up the NASCAR ladder with its support. Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are others, although they’ve seen moved on to other teams.
The TRD pipeline is never short on talent. Ty Gibbs also won last weekend in his first Xfinity Series start. Christian Eckes and Chandler Smith are running in the Camping World Truck Series. Harrison Burton has become a winner and playoff contender in the Xfinity Series. Those are just a few with Toyota ties.
But the program has also received its fair share of criticism, such as accusations that it has too many drivers and not enough seats. That results in tough decisions about who stays and who goes. Wilson has also been questioned about the group’s ROI, and accused of spending millions of dollars on talent.
“Let me correct that; we have not spent millions on any driver,” Wilson said. “The secret to our success as much as anything else is finding the right partners. Partners like JBL audio, Exxon Mobil, Mobil 1. Partners like Safelite who are gracious enough and generous enough to support us in our driver development partner.
“They lean on us to find the right talent, the right teams. But their support is a big part of why and how this is successful, and it’s done in an efficient.”
Circling back to Bell, it’s why seeing him victorious meant so much.
“Christopher Bell’s win on Sunday, for me, justifies every dollar we’ve spent,” Wilson said. “Every hour we’ve spent. All the blood, sweat, and tears. Jackpot. That’s all it takes. You find one hope diamond, and all the hours of mining make it worthwhile.
“We had a great idea that Christopher was that kind of a talent, and so again, it’s extremely rewarding. I was delighted when he called out publicly Tyler Gibbs and Jack Irving – these are the architects of our driver development program. These are the guys that spend their Friday nights and Saturday nights at dirt tracks all across this country, working with these kids and talking to their families and working with teams like Keith Kunz and many, many others. So, I’m very personally proud and just delighted for Christopher. He’s a good kid.”