RICHMOND, Va.—Christopher Bell has a stock answer when it comes to his 2020 NASCAR plans.
“Not a clue,” says Bell.
No doubt, the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is one of the most gifted to enter the stock car ranks in the last decade. He’s also one of just a few competitors who hasn’t had to pay to play coming through the Gander Outdoors Truck or Xfinity Series.
Bell doesn’t have to worry about buying a ride at the next level. With a 20.8-percent winning average, performance alone will earn Bell a shot in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s just a question of where that might be.
“I feel bad telling you I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, but literally it’s – in my situation that I’m in, I have no control over it,” Bell said. “The only thing that I get to do is drive a race car and hopefully my results speak for themselves and entice people to move me up the ladder.
“That’s all I’ve got. I just go out there and try and win as many races as I can and see where that entices people to put me.”
Since adding asphalt to his resume in 2015, Bell has made his transition appear seamless. Although Toyota supported Bell through the truck series, where he won seven races and the 2017 title, he no longer has a personal services contract with the manufacturer.
Bell, however, is currently under contract to Joe Gibbs Racing. Since moving to NASCAR’s Triple-A division, the 24-year-old Norman, Oklahoma, native hasn’t experienced the growing pains of Tony Stewart, who ran 41 races in what is now the Xfinity Series prior to his first win, or Jeff Gordon, who won in his 35th start. Bell won in his fifth NXS start.
In 48-career Xfinity races, Bell has 10 wins—including two at Richmond—and he’s just getting started.
“I just have really fast race cars,” Bell said. “I’ve learned throughout the course of my career that a race car driver is only as good as their race cars. I just have really good race cars.
“Joe Gibbs Racing has a really good setup for here, and I’m the lucky guy that gets to drive it.”
Bell has Joe Gibbs’ endorsement. Last Sunday, when asked about Bell’s status as well as a contract extension for Erik Jones, Coach indicated that both youngsters would be in the JGR camp for the long haul.
“You don't comment much on the future, other than to say Christopher has a place with us long‑term, and so does Erik,” Gibbs said.“That's our goal.That's what we'll keep working on.
“It's great to have young people coming, young talent. It's very important for us. We all know that.”
Despite signing a contract extension through 2020, Denny Hamlin was rumored to be the odd man out before the No. 11 Fed Ex team took it up a notch this season. Hamlin is one of just three drivers with multiple wins this year—including the Daytona 500.
Bell currently doesn’t consider himself a free agent. Nor does he see himself driving anything but a JGR Toyota. And having Gibbs’ blessing is reassuring for Bell.
“It makes me feel good,” Bell said. “Coach is obviously a guy that I want to drive for in the Cup side. I don’t understand where I’m going to go right now. Just have to win races.”
Bell came close to winning the Xfinity title during his rookie year. He won seven races and easily advanced to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Bell and crew chief Jason Ratcliff adopted a conservative approach of not running the high line around the top of the 1.5-mile track. The strategy bit Bell and played into Tyler Reddick’s favor.
It’s a mistake that still haunts the young driver.
“Oh yeah, I’ve put a lot of effort into that,” Bell said. “The championship boils down to one race and unfortunately that one race was one of our worst races all year long. I’ve been drilling Jason ever since we left there like how can we be better, how can we be better. We’ve got a couple thing marked of how we can improve going back there.
“Obviously, Tyler is going to be really, really good. He won last year. He’s in a great car. He knows how to run the wall. Tyler is definitely the guy that we’re going to have beat if he makes it, which I’m sure he’s going to make it. We just have to be better.
“Reddick proved it again last year that the wall is the fastest place to be at Homestead. I think I’m just going to go up there and run the wall.”