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Cody Kluge Cody Kluge BVM Sports Journalist/Editor

Christopher Bell continues emergence in NASCAR Cup Series

RIDGEWAY, Va. (BVM) – Christopher Bell is only in his fourth season in the NASCAR Cup Series, but already, the 28-year-old has proven to be one of the sport’s rising stars. 

His potential was seen early on in his first Cup Series win at the Daytona Road Course in 2021. In 2022, Bell added three more wins to his resume at New Hampshire, the Charlotte Road Course and Martinsville, earning a spot in the NASCAR Championship 4 for the final race of the season at Phoenix where he finished 10th. 

As a result, Bell and his No. 20 Toyota team came into 2023 with high expectations. Through the first two months of the season, the Norman, Oklahoma native has delivered.

The season began with an impressive third-place finish at the Daytona 500 for Bell, one of five top-five finishes he has had on the year. 

Although a win had eluded the No. 20 team, last week’s Bristol dirt race provided an opportunity to change that.

Growing up, Bell made his name known in part through dirt track racing. Competing through the United States Auto Club (USAC), success followed Bell at every stop, and that only continued as he reached the NASCAR Truck Series – where he won a championship in 2017 – the Xfinity Series, and now, the Cup Series.

In 2021, Bell finished just 34th in NASCAR’s inaugural dirt race at Bristol, as the driver of the No. 20 spun out, taking out not only his car, but that of another fellow former dirt-track racer in Kyle Larson. Last year, Bell improved his finish to seventh in the race.

Starting fourth out of the gates last weekend, Bell felt confident he could take home a win. However, early on, he admittedly struggled.

“The beginning of the race was definitely a struggle for me,” Bell said during an interview on BVM Sports’ Cup Connection. “I felt like I was gonna be able to contend for the lead right away. And that middle of the first stage, I just really started falling back.”

However, the driver of the No. 20 would quickly right the ship, getting back into the top five at the end of stage two. By the final portion of the race, Bell and his team were running as well as they had all night.

“The track just really came to us,” Bell said. “The slicker it got, the faster we got, and we were at our best by the end of the race.”

Despite that, the finish to the race wasn’t easy, particularly with the No. 45 of Tyler Reddick closing in on Bell as Reddick sought his second victory in three weeks.

“My plan was to not let him get to me, that’s for sure,” Bell said. “I knew that he was one of the better cars from earlier in the race. It was just going to be a matter of who could produce the best lap time. For the most part, we were trading back and forth, who was faster, who was slower. I know that he was getting pretty close there at the end of the race.”

In the end, a caution on the last lap caused by Ross Chastain hitting the wall halted Reddick’s momentum, allowing Bell to take home the win. 

While the race had its ups and downs early on for the 28-year-old, he was ultimately dominant, leading the final 100 laps in part thanks to a decision not to pit before the final stage. 

Bell’s fifth NASCAR Cup Series victory held a little extra meaning as well. Over the weekend, the entire racing community mourned the loss of 26-year-old USAC driver Justin Owen, who died from injuries suffered during a crash in a qualifying race at Lawrenceburg Speedway in Indiana last Saturday night.

“I think the whole racing community is always watching after each other,” Bell said. “And you never want to hear the news that another racer lost their life. It was definitely a somber weekend and it’s the news that nobody likes to hear about.”

After dedicating the Bristol win to Owen, Bell will now move forward to the next race of the Cup Series season coming up this weekend at Martinsville. While he hadn’t had a lot of previous success at the track, Bell earned his fourth Cup Series win at Martinsville late last season that helped him earn a spot in the Championship 4.

“Martinsville is definitely a place that’s gonna be special to me for a while,” Bell said. “To win with our backs against the wall to make the final four was a huge moment. It’s at a race track that I haven’t really had success at in the past. It’s never been one of my favorites, but now, after winning there, it’s definitely climbed up the list a little bit more.”

Also making Bell a potential race favorite this weekend is his team, Joe Gibbs Racing, which has historically been very successful when it comes to short-track racing. Whether it’s Ty Gibbs, Denny Hamlin or Martin Truex Jr., Bell thinks his team is poised for success this weekend.

“I think it all boils down to having great race cars,” Bell said. “Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the best organizations on the short tracks, whether it’s the Xfinity Series or the Cup Series. I’m just the lucky guy that gets to hold the steering wheel.”

There is still a long way to go in the NASCAR season, but as of right now, Bell is the leader in the Cup Series standings with 281 points. The driver of the No. 20 continues to emerge into a star, and if things keep trending the way they have early on, Bell may be poised to make it back-to-back Championship 4 seasons.

“It’s cool,” Bell said about sitting atop the points standings. “I’m, I guess, maybe a little bit surprised. We’ve been running well. But this sport is all about playoff points. It’s all about winning races. Leading the regular season standings is great, but when you get into the playoffs, it’s all about the playoff points. The only way to do that is by accumulating stage wins and race wins … We need to make sure that we win some more races, win some stages to get more playoff points.”