Pa Bob Pokras

Christopher Bell knew quite early in the season that he had a car and speed to be reckoned with.

His final results weren’t necessarily indicative of speed, but the way he felt in the car led him to believe that people should see him as a potential threat in 2022. However, by the end of the regular season, he was seen, but perhaps not top of mind, how to beat someone.

“The third or fourth race,” Bell said a couple of weeks ago about when he knew he could compete for the title. “Looking at California [in February]we performed well and the car finished about 10th.

“Then we went to Vegas, won the pole and led the race until we lost the lead on pit road. Even in these races we showed the ability to perform well and be a contender for the title.”

Christopher Bell on the speed his team has shown all season

Christopher Bell believed his team had championship speed long before the rest of the sport recognized it.

Bell, 27, is in just his third year competing in the Cup and his second appearance in the Cup Playoffs. After making the second round of the playoffs two weeks ago, he was one of two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers left in the postseason, and certainly the most consistent, with 5 top-5 finishes in the previous 10 races.

But two flat tires at Texas, where his day ended well before the halfway mark, as well as a spin and a speeding penalty on pit road at Talladega put Bell in a difficult position. He sits 33 points behind the cut-off with only Charlotte Motor Speedway (“The Roval”) left in the round. With two great stages, he may have a chance to increase his points tally, but he is largely facing a must-win situation.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Bell, who finished eighth in last year’s Roval playoff race and 24th in 2020. there we do our best.”

This weekend will be the toughest assignment of Bell’s Cup career. But whatever happens, he has established himself as a driver who will fight for championships in the future.

And he knows pressure situations. He had an epic battle with the 2021 Cup winner Kyle Larson in sprint cars, including the prestigious Chili Bowl midget nationals.

“I’ve always known his talent and ability,” said Larson, who also had his battles and disagreements with Bell in NASCAR. “I was surprised it took him this long to consistently stay in the top three to five because, like I said, I’ve raced him longer than anyone else in the field and I know the potential, which he had.

“It’s good to see him running up front – another dirty guy fighting for the championship… I always like to see dirty guys win, especially from my side of the dirt track.”

Christopher Bell on his accident in Texas

Christopher Bell said he has no indication his team will have tire problems in Texas and is discussing how the crash will affect him going forward.

Bell has one of the best crew chiefs in the garage in Adam Stevens, who has won two Cup titles with Kyle Bush. For the first time in 2021, the pair have had little chance to work together on the track except for races, as NASCAR has only had practice and qualifying for eight events due to the pandemic.

This year, with them getting at least 20 minutes of training each week, they showed they’ve learned about each other after nearly two years of racing together.

“I know I have the right guy in the box, that’s for sure,” Bell said. “We’ve just been getting along really well since Next Gen came out [this year].

“Last year we had less practice, if not practice, so it was difficult for us to find the same opinion on what I need in the car to perform well.”

Stevens worked with Bell on how to handle not winning, knowing when to push the boundaries and knowing when not to. Cup races, especially in the playoffs, are often about maximizing the day.

Bell admits, “I was notorious for my wins or losses,” and Stevens helped him make the most of what he got.

“He doesn’t like to be beaten, which most competitors at this level don’t,” Stevens said. “I know I am. You have to balance it. You don’t want it to drag you down.”

This year, they mostly fulfilled this goal. After a best of 10th in the first five races, Bell earned 10 top-5 finishes in the next 24 events.

“You can’t win every race, and sometimes it’s not even wise to force yourself to, depending on where you’re running and what you’re up against. Keep the end goal in mind,” Stevens said.

“He just did a fantastic job of minimizing mistakes and capitalizing on others and keeping the train rolling.”

Christopher Bell on adjusting to playoff races

Christopher Bell has always been a win-or-lose driver, but this year he’s learning the nuances of playoff racing.

But now, maybe Bell really needs a win-or-bust attitude. In the two previous road races, he led 17 laps before finishing 12th at Indianapolis and eighth at Watkins Glen.

If he wants to win, he must be deliberate in his steps and take calculated risks. Bell has one Cup road win, at Daytona last year.

“The Roval worries me, but I’d say we’ve been the best road car among Toyotas,” Stevens said before the start of this round. “We tried different things [Indianapolis] and were noticeably better.

“He’s certainly more than capable on road courses, and yes [it’s] just make the car do what it needs to do to be fast.”

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What to watch out for

Road racer Joey Hand He noted earlier this week that there are more walls around this track than a normal road course.

When a car loses its shape on the road, it is often saved by grass or gravel. But at Charlotte Road, most of the track has walls on both sides.

This means drivers can’t get too out of shape. They can’t completely rip off the corner or they will take damage.

Understandably, the next generation car seems to handle damage better than other cars. But no one will want to know how much on Sunday, especially not those fighting to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Thinking aloud

Connor Daly makes his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend Marco Andretti makes his NASCAR debut Xfinity Series.

Some would argue that a driver with little or no experience should not be allowed to make his series debut during the playoffs.

But it seems right. Both drivers have a lot of racing experience and both are used to making decisions at high speeds thanks to their jobs Indycar experience. (Daley has also made two Truck starts and one Xfinity start in his career.) Their presence could bring additional interest to the race from the fan bases they have built in IndyCar racing.

Can they make an impact in the playoffs? Absolutely — just like any driver not eligible for the playoffs can affect the lead.

If NASCAR allows drivers to compete in non-playoff races, the playoffs themselves should not be a barrier to entry.

Social attention

They said it

“Shaker”. — Rodney Childers on Twitter after NASCAR announced he was suspended from four races for body part modification

Bob Pokras covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has covered motorsports for decades, including the last 30 Daytona 500s, and has worked for ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @dashand sign up for FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pokras.

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