Expectations were high for Christopher Bell coming into 2018, and through the opening four months of the season, the No. 20 team has experienced the highs and lows of NASCAR with inconsistent results.
Bell, 23, won the Camping World Truck Series championship in 2017 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. While driving a truck, he also competed in eight NASCAR XFINITY Series races to prepare him for his rookie campaign in the division, that being this season.
Through the first 14 races of the season, Bell was triumphant at Richmond Raceway, earning seven additional top-10 finishes. Meanwhile, the other six races have seen the No. 20 finish outside the top 10 or not even finish at all.
“Whenever I’m not crashing, it’s going pretty good,” Bell told Frontstretch regarding his rookie season in the XFINITY Series. “We’ve had extremely fast race cars and we’ve had really good runs, especially on the mile-and-a-halves. Even the short tracks, we’ve been good, it’s just those crashes. It seems like we get on a stretch where I run well and then I crash and that breaks our momentum. It’s definitely killing us in the points.”
The No. 20 team is fifth in the overall regular season championship standings, despite being one of three full-time XFINITY drivers that have gone to Victory Lane. With two additional stage wins this season at Las Vegas and Bristol Motor Speedways, Bell has earned a total seven playoff points, jumping him to second on the playoff grid. Currently, he is just behind Justin Allgaier, who is the same driver he finished runner-up to last weekend (June 17) at Iowa Speedway.
In five of the 14 races, Bell has had some sort of incident, resulting in a trio of DNFs. The No. 20 team kicked off the season at Daytona getting involved in a crash that was triggered by Austin Cindric getting loose on the frontstretch. At Auto Club Speedway, Bell spun and finished 21st. After leading 35 laps at Bristol, he sideswiped a pair of cars, finishing 29th. At Pocono Raceway, he was in the middle of a four-wide incident on the backstretch with Allgaier. The next week at Michigan, he spun twice and put the car in the wall, but came back to finish 11th.
Overall, it’s been hard to get going for Bell in 2018.
“Our results are inconsistent, but our speed seems to be consistent,” Bell said. “I’ve just got to eliminate the crashing.
“It’s tough because you look at the crashes I’ve had, right? Daytona, not really my fault. Fontana, the crash itself wasn’t my fault, but at the same time I crashed, so if one crash wasn’t my fault, second crash might not have been my fault, but I still crashed twice, so both of those are my fault. The bottom line is, I just have to quit crashing.”
Comparing Bell’s rookie season in the Truck Series (2016) to his rookie season in XFINITY has been quite the same. Though running a much shorter schedule in trucks, his finishes were also inconsistent, also having three DNFs through the first 14 races. He did have a victory at Gateway Motorsports Park, which assured him a postseason berth.
“It’s similar in the fact that I’m crashing,” Bell said. “My first year in trucks, I wasn’t fast. I never really competed for wins, and I just wasn’t fast. This year, I am competing for wins, and it’s really good. I think it’s just being with Joe Gibbs Racing and I have a solid team here.”
However, Bell thinks coming back from a mistake in XFINITY is easier than in the Truck Series because of the lengthened schedule.
“That’s been the hardest part for me just going NASCAR racing in general,” Bell said. “If you’re what I’m accustomed to with dirt racing, if you crash on a Friday, generally you get to race Saturday and Sunday. If you crash on Sunday, you’re racing a couple days later, whereas especially in the Truck Series, if you crash, typically you had a couple week break and you’re dwelling on that and it’s hard to get over that and overcome that.”
This season, Bell has ranged from second to sixth in the points, with the exception of Daytona (30th). Elliott Sadler has led the points at the end of 13 races this season and is someone the reigning Truck champion believes is the favorite for the title, while not believing that the No. 20 team is.
“It’s hard to not pick Sadler as the championship favorite because he’s led the championship for however many years in a row,” Bell said. “I think our speed is really good, so that’s a positive, but I would not say I’m the championship favorite, no. I would have to say Allgaier because he’s been in the Championship 4 every year that they’ve done it. [Daniel] Hemric is really consistent. He needs to find some more speed, but he’s always there at the end of the races.”
The series’ next race is at Chicagoland Speedway (June 30). In two Truck Series starts at the venue, Bell has a pair of top-five results, finishing third last season.
- Toward the end of last week, the XFINITY Series’ 2019 schedule was released. There were no apparent changes from this seasons schedule.
- After having a hot start to the 2018 season, Elliott Sadler has back-to-back finishes of 28th or worse. His points lead has been trimmed to four markers as Cole Custer has four consecutive top-five finishes. Daniel Hemric is third in points, Tyler Reddick fourth and Christopher Bell fifth.
- This weekend marks the fifth off-week the series has had this season. However, after this week off, XFINITY teams will be on the road for 15 consecutive weeks, going through the October race at Dover International Speedway.