Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell is about to pursue the first Cup Series championship of his career. He did not have an easy path to the final four considering that he had to win two cutoff races, but his “troopers” put him in the best possible position.
Bell provided some insight on his season ahead of the trip to Phoenix Raceway. He explained that he doesn’t get flustered even when he is down and out due to his low-key personality and his willingness to put the blame on himself instead of others. He also has a sizable advantage due to the people surrounding him on a daily basis.
“I mean, they’re troopers,” Bell told Heavy ahead of championship weekend. “I will never forget going to the Charlotte road course. I was deflated, man, I was gone. I was ready for the offseason. And they knocked it out of the park, they brought a great racecar and treated it as if we were leading the points. And we were last in the points.
“And [it] allowed us to win that race. And then the exact same thing happened at Martinsville. So I think that just goes to show the never-quit attitude in all my mechanics, my engineers, Adam — the crew chief. And then even as down as I am, as a driver, I feel like whenever I put my helmet on, I’m able to get in the mode and put that all behind.”
Bell’s Crew Could Be the Biggest Difference
Having a fast car is one piece of the championship puzzle. Avoiding mistakes at critical times is just as important. Pit road is the perfect example considering that the 2021 championship race came down to the final stop.
Martin Truex Jr. was well out in front during the final stage of the 2021 season finale. Denny Hamlin was behind him in second while Chase Elliott was third and Kyle Larson was fourth.
It appeared that one of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars would cruise to the win, but a late caution for a brake rotor exploding sent the drivers down pit road for one final stop.
Truex entered his stall first, but Hamlin was able to overtake him as the No. 19 team had a slower stop due to the right-rear tire. They both stayed ahead of Elliott, but Larson’s team turned in a perfect stop in pit stall No. 1 and gave him the lead. He went on to win the championship while Truex finished second.
Bell’s pit crew struggled at times earlier in the 2022 season, but the situation changed when Joe Gibbs Racing swapped some members of his team with Bubba Wallace’s. The new group quickly gelled and became one of the best in the Cup Series. According to Asphalt Analytics, the No. 20 crew had the second-fastest average stop at Martinsville Speedway at 9.85 seconds.
“They showed up and showed out this week, man,” Bell said. “I was tickled to death with the performance at Martinsville. They’re the reason why we won. If they don’t step up to the plate, then we don’t win the race.
“And once we got the lead, I think we still had a number of pitstops where they had to hold serve. Holding serve means having the best pit stop because whenever you’re coming in first or second, you’re competing with the best pit crews on pit road. And they went toe-to-toe with them and outperformed them, and we were able to win.”
Bell’s Team Has Extra Time to Prepare
Bell will prepare for the most important race of his career, one in which he can pursue a Cup Series championship. He and the No. 20 team will have extra time to prepare considering that there will be 50 minutes of practice for the Cup Series teams.
There have been a few weekends with the expanded practice sessions. The first races at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway both had them. Now there will be another as the Cup Series drivers search for any possible advantage.
“It is interesting, because the 20-minute practice sessions, you can’t really do a ton of mechanical changes to the car,” Bell explained. “So I think you have to have at least two tires on the ground at all times. So it’s really hard to get underneath the car to make changes. Whereas this 50-minute practice, you can kind of do whatever you want to do.
“So, you know, I think we’ve had maybe two or three of them all year long, but not very many for sure. So I know that I’ve got the best pit crew in the business, on top of the pit box and making the right calls. So I would think that more practice is more of an advantage for the 20 group.”