If the kill in his eyes was any indication, Christopher Bell is a man on a mission.
Despite his dominant performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this past weekend, he wound up getting beat by strategy and his championship rival Tyler Reddick for the win.
Bell led 154 laps, has already won six races this season and all but has a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride lined up for next season. But none of that mattered in the moment or in the big picture.
“That’s two times we’ve been beat this season—I feel like we had the best car and the other guys just do the opposite of us,” he said post-race. “It freaking sucks. Nothing else to say.”
From a usually mild-mannered, cool, calm and collected driver, that was about as fiery we’ve seen the Norman, Okla., native.
He looked physically and emotionally worn out but not defeated. Not because he came so close but because he didn’t close the deal when given the best chance to.
“Whenever you have opportunities to win the race and you don’t win, that’s what sucks,” he said. “Whenever you have 10th-place cars and you run fifth with them, it doesn’t sting as bad. Today we had a winning car and we did not win.”
Despite that disappointment, he enters the seven-race postseason the overwhelming favorite. His 55 total playoff points are 11 more than the next closest driver (Reddick with 44), meaning he will likely coast to the Championship 4, barring back-to-back catastrophes.
Plus, he wins everywhere. His six wins this season have come at two 1-mile tracks, two short tracks, one intermediate and one road course.
The playoffs consist of two 1-mile tracks, one road course, three intermediates and one short track. On paper, that bodes well for Bell.
“Just gotta keep bringing these cars, man,” he said. “If we keep bringing these cars, we’re going to win every race after this.”
And that’s not an absurd take. Don’t get me wrong: Cole Custer and Reddick have been just as good, if not better and more consistent at times this season, than Bell. But when that No. 20 turns it on, it’s on.
The one problem that’s looming int he distance is the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Bell’s average finish there is an uncharacteristic 23.5. To think he won’t be competing for at least a top five when push comes to shove would be naive, but with Reddick and Custer winning there in the past and Bell’s results being sub-par at best, it’s a little cause for concern.
But as long as they keep doing them, as cliche as that is, they’ll be juuuuust fine. Bell is out to prove he’s a champion before he moves up to Cup. And good luck to those who get in his way.