Christopher Bell’s Struggles Don’t Match His NASCAR Potential

Christopher Bell knew he had a fast car. 

He knew he had a good team behind him. 

He knew, as an up-and-coming driver, he could become a contender.  

But two events into his third full NASCAR Cup Series campaign here is all Bell had to show for his efforts:

  • A crash at Daytona led to a 34th-place finish.
  • Engine problems at Fontana resulted in a P36.
  • Of the season’s opening 401 laps, Bell completed only 246.

Bell knew things had to get better. They did. 

Christopher Bell turns around a short qualifying time span into maiden pole position  

NASCAR Cup Series’ Christopher Bell drives along pit road with a damaged tire after an on-track incident during the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6, 2022 | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Bell ventured out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and captured the pole for the Pennzoil 400. On a cool, windy March 6, Bell rounded the 1.5-mile tri-oval at 182.673 mph, sealing his first P1 start in 75 Cup appearances. 

Continuing to experiment with different qualifying practice session times, NASCAR expanded the practice time for drivers at Vegas. At Fontana on Feb. 26, drivers had just 15 minutes. There was no practice for most events during 2020 and ’21 because of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. 

Doesn’t matter to Bell. 

“Either way, I was content,” Bell said during a March 8 interview with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio‘s Tradin’ Paint. 

One thing did matter, though. Bell didn’t appreciate the short time span from practice to qualifying. Although he realized someone had to go first, he took a deep breath and made personal history. 

“It was a tight turnaround end of practice to qualifying, but we were able to get our (Toyota) Camry driving good,” he said. 

Real good.

Bell and company will experience new Next Gen cars on short track for first time 

Will things stay good for Bell at Phoenix Raceway? Most drivers do not consider the glitzy Clash at the Coliseum as the Next Gen car’s first “true” short-track racing experience. The one-quarter mile track constructed at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was so radically short only 23 cars raced in the main event. It was a made-for-TV event that struck ratings gold.

With 4.5 million viewers tuning into the Pennzoil 400 on March 6, stock car racing’s resurgence appears to be trending. Each of the three points races has resulted in teammate vs. teammate showdowns at the end, with one taking a wall in the opening two.

“The on-track product has been outstanding, and I don’t think anyone will argue that,” said Bell, who captured 17 Xfinity Series wins in 76 starts.

He captured his first Cup race at the Daytona road course last year.

Earning his maiden career pole and first top 10 of 2022 at Las Vegas, Bell knows he has a fast car, a good team, and can drive.

The question remains: When will Bell’s on-track results finally start matching his potential?

“A top 10 is the top of the iceberg,” he said. “I think we’re capable of a lot more.”

Bell: ‘I enjoy the cars being difficult to drive’ 

Three points races into the season, Bell has experienced the Next Gen cars on three different types of tracks. From a superspeedway to an intermediate layout.

The 1-mile track in the desert will be the Cup series’ first “true” test for the new technology on a short track. Bell’s basic game plan remains the same from when he scored consecutive P9s at the site last year.

“You have to roll the corners,” he said. “Being tight is no good at Phoenix.”

Before racing on a “true” short track, Bell believes the new Next Gen car will pass its next challenge.

“I enjoy the cars being difficult to drive,” Bell said. “I think that’s what a majority of drivers wanted. And it allows us to showcase ourselves. If we believe we are good, we should excel in these race cars.”

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