No one was as hot in the opening round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs than Christopher Bell. In 3 races on 3 different tracks, Bell walked away with a top 5 finish in each. No one else in the garage can say that they accomplished that.
However, Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN) at the Texas Motor Speedway starts a different round. If anything, this year’s car has shown us that there’s not much that you can take over from one week to the next. There’s no rhyme or reason as far as to what we’re seeing in 2022.
19 of the 32 full time drivers have won a points paying event. Factor in the All-Star race and the Duels and that number jumps to 21. None of the opening round races were won by a playoff driver.
Does Texas change that?
Bell has to be one of the favorites going in as he’s had 6 top 5 results over the last 10 weeks in his No. 20 Toyota. He’s also finished 3rd in this very race in each of the last 2 years as well. Numbers are lining up.
“It’s terribly disappointing. That’s two weeks in a row we have had speed, and the car underneath me to win the race, and haven’t done it,” Bell said. “Extremely proud of this No. 20 group. They keep bringing Camrys that are incredible to the race track.
“It makes me really excited about where we are going, especially Texas – which is one of my best race tracks. I proud of everyone on this group. Hopefully, we can carry this momentum.”
While no one had Bell as a serious championship threat entering the playoffs, the Oklahoma native is a factor from this point forward so long as they can keep this error free racing up.
“Looking at the next seven races, I would say Texas is arguably the most important race, outside of Phoenix (the championship race),” Bell said. “Talladega, we all know how that is – there is going to be some lucky guys, and some unlucky guys.
“Texas is kind of the one place where you can control your destiny into the next round and the winner is going to feel really good if it is a playoff car.”
The thing is, this Next Gen has giveth and taketh away just as easily.
Toyota has a big problem on their hands now too. Their mechanical woes haven’t yet been resolved as Kyle Busch had 2 engine failures in 3 races. Denny Hamlin battled some power steering issues in Bristol while Martin Truex Jr. was eliminated from Darlington while leading due to a mechanical failure and knocked out of Bristol for a power steering issue too. So were both 23XI Racing cars last Saturday night as well.
Did Toyota get these problems fixed or are they doomed this round?
They have just 2 drivers left fighting for this year’s championship and can’t afford any more self inflicted wounds. With Talladega and the ROVAL this round, if they have any mishaps on Sunday in Texas, they could have no cars left in the Round of 8…
Texas is Bell’s best shot at a third round appearance too because superspeedway’s and road courses are his weaknesses.
Bell was 3rd, 27th, 18th, 12th and 8th on road courses and 34th, 23rd, 22nd, 19th and 36th on superspeedways. However, he was the first driver to ink his name into the 2nd round and is hoping to be the first to join the 3rd round on Sunday.
That’s why Texas is so big for him to come out of the gates hot and even score a win…