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NASCAR Cup Las Vegas II

Bell: A 2023 NASCAR championship story "is up to us to write"

Christopher Bell’s first opportunity to compete for a NASCAR Cup title last year came thanks to some extraordinary dramatics, something his 2023 playoff run has thankfully lacked.

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, DEWALT Electrical Solutions Toyota Camry

To make his first career appearance in the Championship 4 last year at Phoenix, Bell had to pull off the near-impossible – winning two “must-win” races – at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville – to advance through the Round of 12 and semifinal rounds of the playoffs.

Once reaching the title race at Phoenix, Bell, 28, ended up finishing third in the series standings in what was then just his third fulltime Cup season.

A year later, Bell again entered the playoffs with one win in the regular season and while his path through the playoffs so far hasn’t been all smooth sailing, he hasn’t had to result to crunch-time victories.

At least not yet.

“It’s certainly been a lot different than last year, especially being able to have a good race to start the Round of 12 and get a points buffer and we were able to maintain that at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval,” Bell said.

“Darlington was a struggle. I made a mistake, got in the wall there but fortunately was able to have two good races after that.”

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, DEWALT Electrical Solutions Toyota Camry

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, DEWALT Electrical Solutions Toyota Camry

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Once again, Bell enters the semifinal round at somewhat of a disadvantage to some of the other playoff drivers who have earned more wins and playoff points throughout the course of the year.

He readily admits he and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team missed opportunities this season to be much better positioned to reach Phoenix.

“We’re still in the hunt. We’re in the Round of 8 and it’s amazing and spectacular and we have the opportunity to run for a championship and that is awesome,” he said. “But certainly, this whole season we’ve felt like we’ve left a lot a stuff out there that we very easily could have had, whether that’s top-five (finishes) or race wins.

“Regardless of what happens moving forward for us, I feel like we did not live up to our potential. We didn’t perform up to our potential this year. Hopefully, we can still capitalize on what’s ahead of us and make the most out of it.”

Confidence for the tracks ahead

Luckily for Bell, the semifinal round consists of tracks on which he and his JGR teammates typically perform well – Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, followed by races at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville, where Bell won one year ago.

“I love the Round of 8 schedule because it’s three tracks that are completely within the team’s control. It really should showcase the best teams,” he said. “I think the best teams will rise to the top.

“For us, Vegas is a great track and certainly one we have circled to score a lot of points at. Homestead hasn’t been the best track for me recently, but I’ve had success there in the past. With Martinsville, we won there last year, and we think we can be in contention again.”

And if good runs are hard to come by, Bell has more experience than anyone else in the playoff field in pulling off wins when they are the only way in which he can advance.

While Bell believes the 2023 season held the promise of much more than what he has been able to deliver, he still has an opportunity to end the year competing for the championship.

That is, after all, the goal to start every year.

“I think that right now everyone is kind of on a clean slate. So, I think the story is up to us to write it,” he said of his title chances. “I’ve got the best pit crew, the best crew chief, the best cars and it’s up to me to go out there and drive the cars to their potential.

“I think it’s all in our hands. There’s no reason we can’t get to Phoenix and compete for a championship. It’s up to us to make that happen.”

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