Bell riding the NASCAR playoff roller coaster all the way to Phoenix

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Bell riding the NASCAR playoff roller coaster all the way to Phoenix

NASCAR

Bell riding the NASCAR playoff roller coaster all the way to Phoenix

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The roller coaster of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff isn’t done yet with Christopher Bell.

The ups and downs of trying to qualify for the championship certainly tested Bell and the No. 20 team from Joe Gibbs Racing. But in two back-against-the-wall, have-to-win, go-or-go-home situations, Bell prevailed.

Sunday, the 27-year-old will race for the Cup Series championship for the first time. And somehow, Bell isn’t mentally exhausted from just trying to get to Phoenix Raceway.

“I’m excited,” Bell said Thursday. “I’m fired up. It’s so funny because, after the first round, I was really, really excited and just loving racing at that moment. And then we went to Texas and Talladega, and I was ready for the offseason. I was ready for a break and just ready to put racing on the back burner, and then back up to the top and then right back to the bottom again.

“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and got one race, and I’m going to do my best to make the most of it.”

Bell will have just as good a shot as the other three contenders to hoist the Bill France Cup, although he likes his chances the best because of the speed in his Toyota and the team behind him. Adam Stevens, a two-time champion crew chief, is a veteran leader and has experience fighting for titles. It was Stevens who put Bell in the position to win at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville Speedway with late pit calls for tires.

“He’s the best guy, for sure,” Bell said. “I’m very grateful to be driving for him, and I’m fully aware that I have the right guy on the pit box, absolutely.”

Despite his two walk-off wins, Bell enters Sunday’s finale (3 p.m. ET, NBC) flying under the radar. The thunder was stolen last weekend because of Ross Chastain’s improbable and unbelievable full-throttle ride against the wall to earn his spot in the championship race.

Bell had no idea what was going on behind him as he was celebrating on the Martinsville frontstretch. Now, however, Bell isn’t surprised he was overshadowed this week. He also doesn’t care.

“I’m completely OK with that,” Bell said. “It means I had a way less busy week this week than he did.”

It’s the perfect situation for someone who views himself as obscure. Maybe one day, Bell said, he’ll be the least famous Cup Series champion. And just having the opportunity to accomplish such a thing at the highest level of NASCAR hasn’t even sunk in for Bell yet.

“It’s been very rewarding,” Bell said. “This is a moment that I never thought would be a possibility. As a kid growing up, I never thought I would be contending for a Cup championship. So, I’m just trying to soak it all in and make sure I’m ready to perform my best on Sunday.”

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