Christopher Bell is perhaps the highly-rated prospect in recent NASCAR memory. That’s what makes last year so surprising.
In a season dominated by Bell and the No. 20, they rolled off the truck at Homestead-Miami Speedway slow, and couldn’t catch up for the remainder of the weekend.
The minute 2018 ended, Bell’s focus turned to not just 2019, but this weekend and the Championship 4.
“We hit it really hard after Homestead last year because we struggled so bad,” Bell said. “I remember the week after Homestead, me and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) just sat down for a period of time. Just thinking about ‘where did we mess up, where weren’t we fast?'”
Bell went in the favorite last year and relished the opportunity to do so. He went on about the speed he feels is in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for this weekend, saying he knew exactly what they missed last year, and they’ve corrected the issue.
“I’ve watched thousands an thousands of minutes of video from Homestead now,” he said. But watching my in-car, watching the No. 9’s (Tyler Reddick) in-car, watching the No. 00’s (Cole Custer) in-car, what I can tell difference between the throttle application, brake application, what his hands are doing different inside the car.
“It was pretty clear what we missed on. I’m pretty happy with what we have and excited about this weekend.”
When asked if he wanted to share what the missing piece was, Bell smiled and held it to the vest.
“I’ll keep that to myself.”
Besides the fact that he’s on the brink of a title and moving up to the Cup Series, Bell is excited to participate in the season finale at what he calls one of his favorite race tracks.
“It’s gonna be a fun race,” he said with a smile. “Homestead is a beautiful race track, I love it. This is a race that obviously everyone has circled, not just because it’s a championship race but because it’s such a fun race track. Last year we weren’t very fast here, so we’ve focused on how to get better here and I feel like we prepared for this years event.”
Bell said when he combs through the aforementioned video, he primarily listens, not watches. Since Homestead has pretty much one preferred groove, according to Bell, it’s the little things aforementioned that may make the difference.
“We’ve definitely got a great direction of where we’re heading,” he said. “We’ve got a phenomenal race car for this weekend, so I’m excited to see what the speed is. We saw the No. 00 (Custer) dominate the race here two years ago and I think we have that capability this year.”
His confidence was palpable. Smiles ear to ear, repeatedly stating how excited and fast his car is (which hasn’t even turned a lap yet, by the way). So where does it all stem from?
“Because of data,” he said. “What we knew last year, what we know this year. It was pretty clear looking at the videos of what we missed last year. I’m excited about it, man. I really am.”
With that confidence and swagger, Bell knows getting here is an accomplishment in and of itself. IN a one-race winner take all, things can go haywire in a hurry, allowing no time to catch up.
“It’s very enjoyable, that’s for sure,” he said. “Ultimately, thats one race. We could have a flat tire, a mistake on pit road, something that can take us out of it and we can very well lose the championship again. But getting to this point is kind of the goal always, because you never know how this race is going to turn out. We’re going to go out on Saturday, roll the dice and see how it goes.”
Earlier this season, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Harrison Burton took part in a test at Homestead with a handful of other drivers. Bell confirmed he was in attendance and “did a shake-down run,” comprised of about six or eight laps.
“It was so few laps that I don’t think we have that big of an advantage, but Harrison testing on that tire was a really big advantage for the company,” he said.
Saturday will mark the end of his two-year tenure with JGR’s Xfinity Series program. It’s been two of the best years of Bell’s life, which got him emotional in the week leading up.
“For me, this week has been really sad,” he admitted. “If you would’ve seen me on Tuesday or Wednesday, it was almost like a depressed state. Because this is it. It’s coming to an end. I don’t know, I’m not a big–I struggle with change. Even when I left KBM it was difficult because I was around those guys so long, and now the same thing with JGR.”
The main reason for Bell’s emotional week are the people that he won’t be able to see on a daily basis next season at Leavine-Family Racing in the Cup Series.
“The relationships you build are really big,” he said. “The group people we’ve worked with, and whenever you have success with a group of people, it builds a bond of trust and friendship. I’m gonna miss these guys.”
The Ford EcoBoost 300 is scheduled to go green on Saturday, November 16 at 3:30 p.m. EST on NBC.
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