CONCORD, North Carolina — Poll the NASCAR garage and there’s no doubt that among his peers, Adam Stevens is held in high regard as one of the best crew chiefs in the sport today. Stevens helped guide Kyle Busch to a pair of Cup championships and 29 of his 60 (48%) career wins in just a 6-season span.
Busch amassed 5 wins in just 25 starts in 2015, 4 wins in 2016, 5 more in 2017, 8 in 2018 and 5 in 2019. He made the Championship 4 in all 5 years.
2020 was a bit of an adjustment though. COVID struck and out went practice and qualifying. It greatly affected the way that he and Busch worked together. Just 1 win, 14 top 5 finishes and 512 laps led ensued. Busch was eliminated in the Round of 12 of the playoffs.
Busch had led at least 1400 laps in each of the previous 4 seasons and now it felt like they were sliding backwards. With a plethora of crew chief and driver swaps occurring in the sport, Joe Gibbs Racing felt like it was best to split this tandem up. Give Busch a new voice and see if Stevens’ voice could help another driver.
Busch was paired with Ben Beshore. Christopher Bell was paired with Stevens. Basically, the entire teams swapped. Bell was technically the 18 car while Busch was the 20. The only thing that stayed the same was the sponsors and car numbers tied to those drivers.
As we sit nearly 2 years later, the move appears to have worked better for Bell than it did for Busch.
Over the last 2 seasons now, Busch has 3 wins, 22 top 5 finishes, 38 top 10’s and 1,084 laps led. He was eliminated from the playoffs in the 3rd round last year and 1st round this year.
By comparison, Bell also has 3 wins, 18 top 5 finishes, 34 top 10’s and 519 laps led. He was bounced in the Round of 12 last year but with a win in Sunday’s race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Bell is now in the Round of 8 this year.
While the stats seem similar, the upside is far higher in the Bell/Stevens camp than the Busch and Beshore. In fact, Busch is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the season and going to work with Tyler Burdett at Richard Childress Racing for 2023. Burdett has guided Tyler Reddick to 3 wins just this season alone.
For Bell though, he feels like this is just the start of something special with Stevens.
“As far as Adam Stevens, he’s definitely one of the best in the business,” he said on Sunday after scoring his 2nd win of the season. “A race car driver is only as good as the car underneath of him. Time and time again Adam gives me the opportunity to showcase my talents. Just grateful to have him as a crew chief.
“I can’t stress that enough, that a driver is only as good as the race car that he’s given. Adam is the guy who is giving me great cars.”
What’s clicking this year to where it didn’t for Busch and Stevens is the return of practice and qualifying. While it’s still not as much as it used to be, even the smallest amounts are helping Bell learn to know what he needs to improve his car and relay that onto Stevens to help make it happen.
“Yeah, I mean, honestly, I think if last year we would have had practice and qualifying, we would have been able to perform just as well,” Bell continued. “Just really my first two Cup seasons, not being able to qualify and showcase our speed that we have week in and week out had really hurt my stats and my performance as a driver.
“This year is the first year that I’ve had practice and qualifying, been able to showcase our speed and what we’re capable of doing week in and week out.
“I mean, with that being said, I think practice has helped, too, because it’s helped Adam learn what I need in the car to be successful. So I think practice and qualifying goes hand-in-hand.”
Take how the end of Sunday’s race transpired. Bell didn’t have the fastest race car by a mile. He was a top 10 car, but not a top 5 one. In a race that he had to win, Stevens made the pit call to send Bell’s No. 20 Toyota down pit road for fresh tires under the late race Lap 103 caution to give up 6th in the running order to a fresh set of tires on a track that was tough to pass on.
Bell went from 11th to 3rd to 2nd to 1st in the end to keep his championship hopes alive in a walk off win on a sunny afternoon in north Charlotte.
“Today we were not the fastest car, but we put ourselves in position,” Bell said. “My crew chief made a great call to put tires on, and it worked out where we won the race.
“We were there at the end. Yeah, the tides changed.”
Now Bell is a bone-a-fide championship contender in just his 3rd season in the sport. These first two tracks of the Round of 8 are great for him and he’s excelled on like tracks similar to Phoenix this season as well.
“Yeah, I mean, we’re still alive,” he said. “That feels really good. I wouldn’t have guessed that a week ago or even five hours ago.
“I mean, I like our chances. All the rest of the races play out really good for us. We just have to execute and dot our Is and cross our Ts, see where the cards fall.
“It feels good. Feels really good.”