Christopher Bell reaches goal of being a factor, celebrates with win

Christopher Bell’s objective prior to the season was basic.

“I just want to be a factor in the races,” he informed NBC Sports.

A lot of times in 2015 his moms and dads called him after races to ask how his day went since he was up until now back in the field they seldom saw him on TELEVISION.

Bell began this season as an aspect — simply not how he’d envisioned. His bump draft turned Aric Almirola and activated a 16-car crash in the opening laps of the Daytona 500. Bell confessed that “I wanted to crawl into a hole” later.

Sunday, Bell prevented catastrophe throughout a rock’em-sock’em last 10 laps. He utilized his fresher tires to capture Joey Logano and pass the previous Cup champ to lead the last 2 laps on the Daytona roadway course and rating his very first Cup win.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bell stated. “To win my first race at a road course, I didn’t expect that to happen.”

No One did. Although Bell won the 2019 Xfinity race at Roadway America, roadway racing isn’t considered as his strength. He missed out on an extra time on the Daytona roadway course because he was not eligible to compete in last week’s Busch Clash. He was the only driver in the top five Sunday who did not run in the Clash.

Sunday proved to be the payoff for Toyota Racing Development, which has groomed Bell for years through NASCAR’s ranks.

It’s among the reason why Kurt Busch said before the season that the Bell “is the guy with the most pressure. He’s got a primary ride, an A+ team. … It’s his time to shine.”

Toyota’s investment and Bell’s potential were why Joe Gibbs Racing let Erik Jones go for Bell even when Bell struggled last season at Leavine Family Racing.

“(Last year) was one of the hardest seasons I’ve ever had in my racing career,” Bell said. “I won a (preliminary night feature) race at the Chili Bowl, and that was it for the rest of the year. That’s obviously up against the Cup guys and on the dirt side, too. (Last year) was a really, really low point for me. To be able to come back in ’21 and win in the Cup Series this early on a road course is something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.”

He got the opportunity because Chase Elliott, seeking his fifth consecutive points win on a roadway course, got stuck in traffic after pitting. Elliott led 44 of the first 57 laps, but went for fresher tires during a caution on Lap 57. A few cars stayed out. Elliott restarted 11th. Elliott never got higher than fifth before a late incident.

Logano was amongst those who did not pit. He took the lead when Elliott pitted. Logano extended his advantage to more than three seconds before Bell closed.

“I was hoping him trying to chase me down, he was going to make a mistake as an inexperienced race car driver,” Logano stated of Bell. “You didn’t see it happen.”

Bell’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, wasn’t surprised.

“Once he got track position, he was very, very fast,” Hamlin stated of Bell. “I noticed he was able to stay honestly closer to (Elliott) than what I was when he was leading. He’s definitely doing some good things.”

Bell took lessons learned earlier in the race and used it for his advantage later — such as knowing what it was like to run on older tires.

Crew chief Adam Stevens kept Bell on the track when most of the field pitted on Lap 12 of the 70-lap event. Bell restarted in the lead with three laps left in the very first stage. He finished the stage 12th, unable to hold off many vehicles on fresher tires.

“I stayed there trying to score stage points,” Stevens said. “The whole field pitted behind us and we got run over. We were able to recover from that. We learned our lesson that if you go a good five, six laps, most of the field is going to come get tires.”

That’s why Bell pitted on Lap 57. Fast work by his crew got him out in 13.1 seconds. He rebooted eighth. It was a matter of getting through traffic cleanly to get to Logano, while Elliott was saddled in traffic after a 14.8-second pit stop.

Bell’s victory completed a unique weekend sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing of first-time winners. Ty Gibbs won Saturday’s Xfinity race on the Daytona road course in his first career start.

Even more significant is that Sunday’s win put Bell in a playoff position. With the teammates Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch each expected to make the playoffs, Joe Gibbs Racing should have all four of its cars in the 16-team playoffs this season.

“To be in the playoffs already with him is a big deal,” Gibbs stated.

It could make Bell quite a factor later this season as well.

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.