Kyle Larson outlasted a hard-charging Christopher Bell in a close finish at the October 15 NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 playoff race in Las Vegas. With that victory, the Hendrick Motorsports driver locked himself into the Championship 4 race at Phoenix.
After the race, the 2021 Cup Series champion talked about his day with the media. When one reporter asked about his last-lap battle with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and the level of respect he had for him, the 31-year-old offered a detailed response, and it included throwing some shade at his fellow competitor’s organization.
“He’s always been a really fair, clean racer,” Larson admitted. “We’ve had numbers and numbers of battles in stock cars, but mostly in dirt track. I’m typically the one that is the aggressor or the aggressive one in our battles. Probably push the limit of being dirty sometimes.
“For him to continue to race me clean, I definitely have a ton of respect for him. Always have. In my opinion, he’s one of the best race car drivers in the world and could do everything that I get to do outside of NASCAR if his team would let him.”
Joe Gibbs Denied Christopher Bell Chance to Race on Dirt
Larson’s remarks “if his team would let him” link back to a headline-making story in January when Bell appeared on a podcast with sprint car driver David Gravel and candidly acknowledged that Joe Gibbs Racing was not allowing him to run on dirt.
“I love the Chili Bowl. It’s a very special place to me,” Bell said. “Definitely the largest event that I grew up going to as a kid and it means the world to me that I’ve been able to win it. But Joe Gibbs has been extremely, extremely vocal about his — I don’t want to use the word hatred, but it’s pretty close to hatred — towards dirt-track racing. He does not love dirt-track racing or open-wheel racing at all.
“Me and Coy had a great relationship. Coy Gibbs. I would always funnel my dirt-track stuff through Coy, and Coy loved it. He thought it was really good for me to do, and he would kind of tell his dad that we talked about it, and he thought that it was fine for me to go do. So obviously, Coy passed away in November, and I kind of lost that connection, and Joe was very vocal about me, not dirt-track racing. So, for the time being, I’m not going to be dirt-track racing.”
Bell Deliberately Avoids Discussing Sensitive Topic
Bell tried to provide clarification on his remarks and “clear the air” days later. However, before the April 23 Talladega race, the native Oklahoman revealed it was still a sensitive topic when he visited with the Fox NASCAR crew of Chris Myers, Clint Bowyer, and guest analyst Tony Stewart to talk about the race on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
During that conversation, the group recapped the racing from the night before across the street on the Talladega Short Track, where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won a pair of races in the sprint car competition.
That’s when the four-time Cup Series champion made things awkward.
“Hey, I just want to know why were you not across the street?” the former JGR driver asked the current one. “You let Stenhouse just steal all the money and walk out of there with two trophies and a wad of money in his hands.”
“Yeah, that’s a great question, Tony,” Bell responded and abruptly stopped. That succinct answer drew a laugh from both Stewart and Bowyer.
“No answer, apparently,” Myers said. “You don’t have a great answer.”
Bell knows the unfortunate answer. It’s others like Stewart and Larson who respect the JGR driver’s skills and are ensuring the racing community doesn’t forget that his racing situation outside of NASCAR is still surprisingly in question.