NASCAR Race Weekend Central
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Fire on Fridays: Christopher Bell Shouldn’t Replace Erik Jones or Matt DiBenedetto

Don’t let the lack of facial hair trick you. Christopher Bell is indeed one of the most versatile drivers in the history of the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

He’s not spoiled. He’s not mean. He’s certainly not someone who will make you look bad.

Bell, 24, is dominating week in and week out, already winning five of 19 races this year. Due to his immense success, Toyota Racing Development, rightfully so, wants the Oklahoma native in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car in 2020.

But that’s putting just about everyone in a pickle. And it might come at the expense of Erik Jones or Matt DiBenedetto, or both.

Bell is as talented as anyone, and it’s very clear that when he makes it to the sport’s premier level, he will succeed. However, that doesn’t mean the guy who’s never entered a Cup race should replace one who’s finished in the top-three for three straight races and another who’s attempting to build a group into a winner.

Jones is on fire as of late. While it’s taken him a while to reach a high level of consistency near the front of the pack, he is certainly there. Wins are coming for team No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing. The pressure of potentially being replaced could be part of that.

But that doesn’t matter. The results are strong, and Jones is putting himself in prime position entering the playoffs. His 13.9 average finish also surpasses that of predecessor Matt Kenseth, who had an average result of 14.2 in his final year with JGR.

Jones, unlike Bell, already had a handful of Cup races under his belt, so he understood what the cars and competition are like.

Meanwhile, DiBenedetto has finally settled in at Leavine Family Racing, Toyota’s only other team. He currently sits 24th in the standings after a slow first few months. However, once settled in with the No. 95 team, DiBenedetto has two top fives (both at non-superspeedways) and three top 10s.

DiBenedetto’s bubbly personality, combined with an openness with fans and media alike, have made him one of the most likable faces in the garage area. LFR’s partnership with JGR is certainly not what Furniture Row Racing had, but it is more like what FRR had when it aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

The No. 95 team already has as many top 10s in 2019 as they did in 2017 and 2018 combined. Obviously, the pairing of DiBenedetto and crew chief Mike Wheeler is working.

But the results might not even matter.

The single-car organization desperately needs Toyota to step up in 2020. Team owner Bob Leavine has made it well-known that he doesn’t want to lose DiBenedetto. But he admits the decision isn’t even up to him.

The man who owns the team can’t even choose his driver. Toyota will likely determine whether or not LFR gets two cars in 2020.

If Bell takes over for Jones, it likely means Jones will jump ship to LFR, replacing DiBenedetto. Another scenario is Jones stays at JGR, given his success this year, and Bell goes to LFR.

But the most ideal scenario, by far, is for JGR’s four-car stable to remain the same in 2020, with DiBenedetto staying put in car No. 95 and Bell joining the team in a second full-time entry.

Bell is a marketable driver, too. He’s won races across the country at dozens of dirt tracks, and he’s just a down-to-earth guy. He can certainly run up front in the Cup Series, but why should he replace either of these two drivers, each of whom are on the cusp of doing great things?

At the end of the day, this is Toyota’s call. Should Bell get sponsorship and/or support from Toyota to run a second car at LFR, it would give DiBenedetto the opportunity to finally grow with a stable team, one heavily invested in his career.

For Jones, this is a man who is finally hitting his marks. Keep him in place, see if he can get the job done consistently. He’s only 23 years old. There is plenty of time for him to become a winner.

This isn’t like Joey Logano, who didn’t fit well in JGR’s stable. This is a man who can get the job done and is doing just that. The wins might not be there, but they are coming, and that is clear with his results.

Toyota is small in size, but mighty on the track. One more car would add to that power, not subtract from it.

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About Joseph Wolkin

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Joseph started with Fronstretch in Aug. 2014 and worked his way up to become an editor in less than a year. A native of Whitestone, New York, Joseph writes for NASCAR Pole Position magazine as a weekly contributor, along with being a former intern at Newsday and the Times Beacon Record Newspapers, each on Long Island. With a focus on NASCAR, he runs our social media pages and writes the NASCAR Mailbox column, along with other features for the site.

3 comments

  1. Avatar

    It’s really perplexing to look at NASCAR’s current health. On one hand, you have the Xfinity series doing exactly what it should be doing: developing future drivers of the sport (Bell, Custer, and Reddick). On the other hand, you have a premier series that is severely crippled; all of its current owners are of an age that doesn’t promote growth, the costs of the next gen car appears to be even more staggering, thus severely limiting the appeal for new ownership and sponsors, and there are several drivers in solid rides who are less appealing and talented than this current crop of young stars (Austin Dillon, Paul Menard, Daniel Suarez, and Ricky Stenhouse just to name a few). However when the necessity for money overpowers the demand for premier talent, you know things are dysfunctional.

    If I were a Chevy or Ford team, I would do everything in my power to try and snatch Reddick, Bell, and Custer. As stated, they’d all fill the seats of the drivers I previously mentioned much better; especially Menard and Dillon’s.

  2. Avatar

    Menard is’nt going anywhere since daddy is pumping tens of millions into his ride. Dillon aint going anywhere since he drives for grandpa. Stenhouse maybe. Did’nt I read that Bell has already signed with Gibbs but no mention where he would race. So there you go. Prob will boil down to money and someone will get screwed.