Christopher Bell knows that there could be some awkward tension between he and Erik Jones. The two had similar paths to the Cup ranks and now Bell is replacing Jones in the No. 20 Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Bell says that there’s certainly not any bad blood between the two but knows that it could be a bit different between the two now. While that’s not an ideal situation to be in, it’s still good for Bell to move back inhouse to a JGR driver on the Cup level.
After a year driving for Leavine Family Racing, a JGR alliance team, Bell moves to a better team and hopes to showcase his talents better in 2021. See, last year was a big learning curve for the Oklahoma native.
The biggest being in the length of races. Bell, has a dirt racing background and those races are vastly shorter than what we see in Cup. Even in Trucks and Xfinity competition, the races are normally between 200-300 miles in length. Cup races are typically 400-500 miles, which means a whole new discipline of a driving style in the sense that it’s not a sprint race. You need to take care of your car for 3+ hours.
“I would say dirt racing really prepared me for and maybe made me good at raw speed,” Bell said. “Going fast hasn’t really been my issue. But, one thing that at least my style of dirt racing that I did is, that it didn’t prepare me is for distance races. That’s been the hardest part each step along the way whether it be late models moving into Trucks then moving into Xfinity, the races have just gotten longer and longer and longer. Then, now the Cup races are sometimes twice the length of the Xfinity races that I just got done doing.
“The distance racing part has been the difficult part making sure that you can complete 500 mile races and have a car that’s in one piece. I haven’t done a great part of that over the course of last year and I’m trying this year to see the checkered flag with all the fenders on my car. That’s something that I’m really focused on this year is limiting my mistakes, making sure my car is there at the end of the race.”
That plus driving a car on the far opposite of what suits his driving style was a large adjustment. Bell says that the no practice last year further hindered his abilities to get acclimated to a Cup car but now that he does have 36 races under his belt, he’s ready for an improved 2021 season.
He also inherits a good team in the sense also that he gets Adam Stevens as his crew chief and essentially the entire 18 team from years past. Kyle Busch noted that he felt like he was fired then rehired by JGR as he basically getting the 20 team.
For Bell then, Stevens won 26 times and two championships with that team. That’s what Bell is stepping into now.
Can he capitalize? He hopes so. Bell said that especially early in the year that he’s going to do his best at taking care of the car and being sure to not push it too hard in turning a top 10 or top 15 and trying to win with it. This will be imperative to stay up towards the front in points since there’s no qualifying at most races again this year.
The race he singles out to get that elusive first win is the obvious – Bristol Dirt. He says he should have an advantage there in March but also notes that with the race being longer and run in the day, it could be a wild show and may negate his advantage since most dirt races are run at night.
The other factor is, that the dirt background helps more for an Xfinity style car than in Cup. Bell says that his dirt background certainly helped his success in NXS overall. Those two disciplines are similar in a sense of lower downforce and higher horsepower. He had 16 wins and 41 top fives in just 74 starts.
“The Xfinity cars probably fit my driving style or my background I guess a little bit more than what the Trucks or what the Cup cars did,” Bell said. “I would say the Cup cars are really similar to the Trucks and so they do relate a little bit in that standpoint. It took me a little bit to get adjusted to that point.”
In saying that, would Bell run a Truck again to help with further learning the Cup car? Since racing on dirt or NXS would help that growing curve lessen, it sounds like a Truck would.
“I think definitely running Trucks on the 1.5’s on the high downforce package is the thing that relates the most so I would love to do some Truck races in the future,” he continued. “I can’t say that there’s been conversations about it but it’s definitely something that I’d want to do and Toyota knows I’d like to do that as well.”
Bell, won seven times in 54 Truck races including the 2017 championship. He’s not made any starts there since 2018, so while he’s not going to give up any dirt opportunities away from Cup, adding some Truck starts would actually be more beneficial.