When the NASCAR XFINITY Series hit Kansas Speedway last fall, Christopher Bell was preparing for just his fifth career start in a part-time schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing, but come Saturday, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota will return to the site of his first career win at Kansas Speedway.
“To be able to win in the XFINITY Series so early was obviously a big turning point for my future going forward,” Bell explained Friday at Kansas. “It was really big to prove to the company at Joe Gibbs Racing that they made the right call on the right guy or something. Just very fortunate to drive really fast race cars because at this sport, you see it time and time again with (Ryan) Preece and Ross Chastain, you’re only as fast as your race car.
“A race car driver can’t make up for very much if your race car is not very good. I’ve got great race cars and that’s the reason why I win races.”
In that race, Bell got a run on teammate Erik Jones inside five laps remaining in last year’s Hollywood Casino 300, made the pass and pulled up in front of the No. 20 Toyota. But Jones was traveling at such a high rate of speed that he ran into the back of Bell’s No. 18. The damage dropped Jones to a 15th-place finish, one lap down, while Bell cruised on to his first career victory.
“We didn’t talk after the race. My phone was blowing up saying that Erik’s mad at me and obviously my team was happy and I don’t really think his team was that upset,” he explained. “Anyway, as soon as I got to the airplane an hour later, I shot him a text and I said hey man, I didn’t mean to make you not finish the race and I don’t remember his exact words, but he didn’t say congratulations, but I think he said he was happy for me.
“We were on pretty good terms fairly quickly. Heat of the moment, I’m sure he was a little bit upset with me. We’re good now.”
Fast forward to the 2018 season and Bell didn’t find Victory Lane until April when he led 120 of 250 laps at Richmond Raceway. After that win, it took him another nine races before he won three straight at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Iowa.
Now, heading into the second round of the playoffs, Bell rides on the high of having won two of the last three races. In fact, those two victories brought his season total to six, more than any prior XFINITY Series rookie. Though he only holds a five point lead over second-place Justin Allgaier, he had a 39-point advantage over the cut line, heading into the Round of 8.
“The biggest thing for me is whatever happens from this point on, I’ve had a successful year,” Bell said about his success so far this year. “Back in July whenever I had only won one race driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, that was pretty disappointing. Now here we are at the end of the year and I’ve won six races.
“If I don’t win anymore, obviously that will be disappointing, but we’ve had a very successful season and that’s something that I’m very proud of.”
After the race this weekend in Kansas, the XFINITY Series takes its final weekend off before going three straight at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead to close out the 2018 season.
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