Persistence and perseverance. That’s put Christopher Bell to where he is today. Bell, is a NASCAR Cup Series winner. But, the journey to this point has a bigger story behind it. His triumph in last Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 was big in a number of ways. For him personally, it was huge to get his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. He was 0-for-38 prior. But, it was also big to do so in just his second ever start with Joe Gibbs Racing on NASCAR’s top level too though too.
“I knew going to Joe Gibbs Racing that this is my time,” Bell said following his first career Cup win on Sunday. “I’m either going to put up or shut up. I’m very grateful for how it’s played out so far between the first two weeks.
“It’s a dream come true to be able to drive for the Coach, have all of our great partners. Those guys are who made it happen. I just want so bad to be in this No. 20 car for the rest of my career. I need to perform well to do that. I just got to stay after it.”
This car has struggled a bit as of late. Erik Jones won twice in it in three seasons. He missed the playoffs last year and was a first round exit in each of the two seasons prior. JGR made the touch choice to push Jones aside, despite bringing him up through the ranks and replace him with Bell.
So, for Bell to reward that difficult decision by Toyota and JGR by taking the No. 20 Toyota to victory lane in just their second start together in NASCAR’s premiere series was big for both sides.
“It’s a huge deal for us,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “To have Christopher, everything that he kind of fought through last year and then to come back this year. When you think about it, Christopher got in that car last year and never made a lap and was going to racetracks. It was a lot to overcome. And he did show speed at a number of racetracks.
“It was great for him to get that victory. … To have Christopher already in the playoffs, it’s a big deal for us, for sure. It’s hard to do, put it that way.”
It’s also big for the manufacturer too. Bell’s win made Toyota execs, including TRD President David Wilson, emotional. That’s because Bell is the first driver to start in the Toyota Racing Development ranks and make it all the way up to the Cup Series as a winner for them.
“He’s 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,” said Wilson. “His family does not have the resources, and that’s why we invest and will continue to invest.”
TRD has produced a ton of talent you see. They’ve got a rich supply of drivers that have worked their ways up through the ranks. The problem is, they haven’t had a ton of places to house them when they’ve been ready move up. The Xfinity Series rides are really just down to Joe Gibbs Racing. Same for in Cup. It’s a breeding ground for future Cup stars but it’s almost been that they’re breeding the future of NASCAR for other manufacturers.
That’s how they lost out on drivers like Kyle Larson, William Byron and Noah Gragson. All departed to Chevy deals. Bell, stayed the course though. He went from Midgets to some K&N action to Trucks to Xfinity then to Cup — all with Toyota’s backing.
He’s won on every step of the way too.
“Christopher Bell’s win on Sunday, for me, justifies every dollar we’ve spent,” Wilson continued. “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.”
Bell, won in just his third ever Truck Series start in a part time role in 2015. He was full time in 2016 and again in 2017 with Kyle Busch Motorsports to where he made the Championship 4 in each season. He won six times those two years including being the champion in ’17.
That allowed him to graduate up to JGR in NXS. But, in 2017, he ran limited races in the series and it only took him seven starts to win there too. 2018 and 2019 he was full time with JGR to where he also made the Championship 4 each year then too. He’d win 15 times in 66 races.
Without anywhere to go with JGR for Cup in 2020, they housed him at Leavine Family Racing. It was a learning experience in 2020 as a rookie. But, with LFR closing their doors at season end, Toyota didn’t want to risk losing Bell like they did the others, so out went Jones and in came Bell.
That risk paid off. Bell is a Cup Series winner.