Christopher Bell has been away from the Xfinity Series for way too long.
His last NXS came at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he was battling in the Championship 4. Over two full seasons, Bell’s winning percentage was a remarkable 21.62-percent.
This weekend at New Hampshire, Bell will return to the tour where he has the opportunity to score the three-peat at the Magic Mile. While Xfinity Series didn’t race at Loudon last year, Bell came from second in both of the previous starts to win.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Bell said. “I think it will be really beneficial for me.”
Bell will start 14th in the No. 54 Dewalt Toyota for the Ambetter Get Vaccinated 200 on Saturday. Like his fellow “Big 3”—Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer—who all graduated to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020—none of these Xfinity standouts had the benefit of testing or weekly practice last year due to the pandemic. Custer was the only freshman last season.
Bell’s best rookie result was third at Texas Motor Speedway during the Playoffs with Leavine Family Racing. He finished 20th in the standings with the now-defunct team. Bell enjoyed a fresh start this season when he moved into the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with championship crew chief Adam Stevens. In their second race together, Bell won at the Daytona Road Course.
Still, the lack of track time has slowed the traditional learning curve for Cup newcomers.
“It’s been different,” Bell said. “Last year was tough. This year, I guess since I came in with higher expectations, but for Adam and me to get on the same page has been really hard without practice and qualifying—more so practice and qualifying.
“You’ve got one opportunity to get your car right. And if your car’s not right when you show up to the race track, you essentially have wedge, track bar and air pressure to get your car drivable. You have to be pretty close to be able to get your car good with those three tools.”
While Toyota has plenty of off-track amenities at its research and development center in Salisbury, N.C., Bell says it’s hard to get dialed in when the car is off base. And it’s not like Bell is the only JGR driver who is struggling. Two-time champion Kyle Busch has been off the mark since NASCAR eliminated practice and qualifying.
“We’re going through similar issues right now,” Bell said. “I’d say simulation helps, but everyone has simulation, right. It’s not like it’s an advantage for us to have it because everyone has the same tools.”
Bell is one of the brightest prospects to come down the pike over the past decade. The biggest “advantage” for him right now is track time—any track time. That’s why the opportunity to race in the Xfinity race is such a huge deal for the driver. Simply lifting the ban for Bell to race on dirt the last few weeks has resulted in two top-10 results—second at Road America and an eighth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. On Tuesday, he competed in the Brad Doty Classic at Attica (Ohio) Raceway.
“I got told I shouldn’t be dirt track racing,” Bell said. “So I didn’t really push for it. But Adam Stevens wants to see me out racing more, which I think is really good. He’s been pushing to get me more races, so hopefully, I can continue to race more.
“Last year, I ran my best races when I was out racing sprint cars. So, I think you nailed it.”
When NASCAR goes dark over the next couple of weeks, expect to find Bell returning to grassroots racing. While he’s still filling out his July schedule, which currently includes Lernerville Speedway on Tuesday night with the Outlaws and Lake Ozark Speedway with the All-Stars on Friday, finding a ride for the Driven2SaveLives BC39 USAC Midget race is on his shortlist for August.
“I would really like to do the BC39,” Bell said. “It’s always a fun event and racing at Indy is really cool.”