Many people are wondering why Christopher Bell is off to a somewhat slower than normal start. Well, for starters, Bell was already expecting a tougher transition to the Cup Series in 2020 than anything he’s ever raced before.
First off, Bell has never raced in events that are as long as the Cup Series has. He was a dirt racer growing up, which meant many 30-50 lap features. Then, as he moved up the NASCAR ranks from Trucks to Xfinity, where the races typically were between 150-300 miles.
Now, most races on the Cup level are 400-500 miles. For a guy that was used to just pressing the loud pedal and able to race hard from the start, he had to adjust his style now in Cup. You can’t drive on Lap 1 like you’d do in mile 400. You have to take care of your equipment for the entire duration. These aren’t shorter sprint races anymore.
Secondly, the style of the Cup cars are vastly different than what suits his driving style in general. There’s more downforce and less horsepower. He likes to race cars as the opposite and slip and slide around the track.
So, that’s been an expected adjustment too.
That in turn has put him in the situation that he’s in right now — 26th in owners points. Bell’s first four finishes this season were 21st, 33rd, 38th and 24th respectively. He was 32nd in points at the time of the COVID-19 break in early March.
Little did he know then, this would affect them even greater more than they’d know when we’d come out of this.
He has no practice at his disposal. That has hurt even the most seasoned veterans of the sport, let alone a rookie competing in his first season. Also, in the 11 races since the return, we’ve only qualified for one of them. The lineups are drawn more times than not based off owners points and groupings. Spots 1-12 in the owners points draw for starting spots in the top 12. Same for the next grouping of 13-24. For Bell, he’s yet to crack the top 24 in the owners standings. While he’s 24th in the drivers points, he’s 26th in owners, meaning the best he could start during this pandemic was 25th.
In turn, that hurt his chances of good finishes.
Prior to the break when we qualified for every race, he never started worse than 22nd. When we came back, the second race at Darlington and Charlotte was an invert of the first show. He rolled off 24th and 12th respectively. In the one race he qualified for, the Coke 600, he started 15th. Six of the last seven races though, he started via a draw.
In those races, Bell started outside the top 30 in five of them. One could argue he’s had the worst luck of the draw too. The worst he could start is 35th-36th. He’s drawn that starting spot in Row 18 four times.
In turn, that’s affected his finishes. While he has five top 11 results in this time frame, he doesn’t have enough time to move up further and he’s having to push his car more earlier than he’d want because of such a bad spot.
He’s chasing the Front Row Racing duo of John Hunter Nemechek and Michael McDowell for 24th. He trails Nemechek by 17 points for 24th with McDowell only three points in front for 25th.
By comparison, Nemechek has started in the top 20 in six of the last eight races. Bell, has gained from his starting spot to his finishing position in nine of the last 11 races. Nemechek, has gained in only four.
But, the disparity isn’t as much though as Nemechek has a vastly better starting spot which means he’s not falling as hard as Bell is gaining.
Once Bell can get to 24th or better in the owners points, watch out.