Bell hopes to rekindle his magic at New Hampshire

If there’s one venue where Christopher Bell’s talent has been nothing short of supernatural, it would be the Magic Mile.

Although the 25-year-old racer has never run a lap in a Cup car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his average finish in four Xfinity/Truck starts is an impressive 1.25. 

Understandably, Bell likes his chances in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

“New Hampshire is one of my best race tracks that we go to on the schedule, for whatever reason,” Bell said. “I have to give a lot of thanks to Kyle Busch Motorsports, because whenever I drove for them in the Truck Series, we actually used one of our rookie tests up there at Loudon in the 2016 season. That kind of kicked off my experience there. 

“I’ve also run a Late Model race there back in 2015, so I had a lot of seat time before I started going there in the NASCAR Series, and it’s just been a great race track for me, with the second-place and the win in two truck races I’ve run there and then two wins in the Xfinity Series.

“I’ve had really good cars there. I think just having experience on the race track before competing in my first race, and then every time I’ve been here, I’ve had great race cars, so it’s made me look really good."

“Experience” is not something that NASCAR’s 2020 Cup rookie class has enjoyed much of this season when it comes to being able to test or even practice in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two-month break—between the stoppage in March and the resumption at Darlington in May—gave Bell and crew chief Jason Ratcliff time to reevaluate and come back stronger.

Sure, Bell has endured his share of ups and downs, as any freshman driver might undergo in Cup, but over the last 14 races, the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing team has climbed from 32nd in the standings to 23rd. But with Bell’s dirt track upbringing, he’s accustomed to limited laps.

“I think this no practice thing definitely fits my background,” Bell said. “I think it’s up and down, and if you look at our results, we’ve arguably ran a little bit better since they stopped practice. 

“One thing that I do think it hinders me a little bit on is I just don’t have a feel for these cars, and it takes a little bit to figure out where the limit is, especially at these race tracks where we’re going with new rules packages. It’s definitely a little bit different.”

Still, Bell benefits from having a veteran such as Ratcliff on the box, given the bizarre nature of this season. The 52-year-old crew chief, who oversaw Bell’s Xfinity Series tour, continues to be a guiding force for the driver. Bell’s greatest lesson this season?  

“Expect the unexpected, for sure,” Bell said. “2020 has been absolutely crazy. It started off crazy with the President coming to the Daytona 500. That was a surreal moment and very cool experience to be a part of and then on top of that, it ended up getting rained out so then we didn’t race until Monday night for the Daytona 500. 

“Then the pandemic hit and we had a huge break in the season. I’ve very thankful that NASCAR is allowing us to keep going to the race track. It’s been up and down for me since then. We’ve definitely made gains since the beginning of the year.”

Bell’s best result was a fourth-place finish at Pocono Raceway—one of five top 10s since the break. He has limited his open-wheel exploits this year to focus on NASCAR but plans to race a USAC midget for Tucker-Boat Motorsports for the first two nights of Pennsylvania Midget Week at Grandview (Bechtelsville) Speedway (Aug. 4) and Action Track USA in Kutztown (Aug. 5).

When asked about his NASCAR plans for next season, Bell was coy. Rumors have been rampant that a change in ownership could be coming for the No. 95 team.

“I try and stay out of the business parts of it,” Bell said. “I love driving the race cars so I try to stay out of the business part as much as I can and just focus on racing and doing as good of a job as I can do.

“The way that this season has gone with the big break in the middle, we’re kind of right in the thick of things right now. This is going to be a really good race track for me at Loudon, so that’s not really on my mind at the moment.”
 As for competing on NASCAR’s top tour, Bell couldn’t be happier. 

“It’s a dream come true,” Bell said. “Being able to compete at NASCAR’s highest level is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to do that.”

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