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Bell's path to 2022 Cup title race "not a reliable playbook"

Outside of Ross Chastain’s wild rim-riding at Martinsville, Christopher Bell had one of the most impressive performances in the 2022 NASCAR Cup playoffs.

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, DeWalt Toyota Camry wins

Bell and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team faced two “must win” situations to advance in last season’s playoffs and reach the championship title race – and they delivered on both.

First, it was a victory at the Charlotte Roval to reach the semifinal round, then it was a victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the final opportunity to win his way into the Championship 4.

As dramatic and timely as Bell’s performance was, it’s not the kind of performance that likely could be repeated on a regular basis.

“That’s not a reliable playbook for sure,” Bell said at Thursday’s Playoff Media Day in downtown Charlotte. “It starts at Darlington in a couple of days.

“The round of 16 went really well for us last year, so hopefully we are able to repeat that and then go to Texas and not have a DNF. That was kind of the downfall of our playoffs. We were able to save it with a couple of wins at Charlotte and Martinsville, but just the DNFs.

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Yahoo! Toyota Camry

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Yahoo! Toyota Camry

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

“You can’t have DNFs. You’ve got to get through. Even if you don’t have a great car, be able to maximize your points and that was something we didn’t do last year.”

It is an emphasis for Bell and his team this season.

He received what he hopes will be an added bonus this week when JGR decided to swap pit crews between Bell’s No. 20 and teammate Ty Gibbs’s No. 54. The No. 54 group has performed more consistently this season.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens, but I’m excited about working with such a talented group,” Bell said. “Wish nothing but greatness for the former No. 20 group.

“From my standpoint, it really doesn’t change, but from their standpoint going from Ty to myself is going to be a slight adjustment. I know that we have the best people in the business across all the JGR pit crews and so I know that they will be able to make the adjustment.”

Thanks to a victory earlier this season at the Bristol Dirt Track and six top-five and 13 top-10 finishes, Bell ended up fourth in the regular season standings. He is seeded seventh among the 16 playoff drivers entering Sunday night’s opening race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

Bell considers it a good position based on the up-and-down nature of his regular season.

“If you would have told me from Feb. 1, that you are going to finish fourth in the regular season standings, I would be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that,’ but after living it, there were so many more opportunities on the table that got left there,” he said.

“That was very disappointing and encouraging at the same time, because I know that we have all of the pieces to not be underrated. We just have to put them all together, and if we do put them all together, I think greatness is ahead of us.”

Asked if he feels underrated, Bell said, “I hope so, because I don’t feel like I’m rated very highly.”

Does the 28-year-old native of Norman, Okla., care one way or the other?

“That’s fine,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter to me.”

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