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If the definition of insanity really is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then Joe Gibbs’ handling of Christopher Bell is a sign he’s come to his senses.

Gibbs, whose itchy trigger finger when dealing with young NASCAR Cup Series drivers has been well-documented, made two huge driver decisions this year. He gave up on keeping Kyle Busch and made sure to hang on to Bell.

Joe Gibbs Racing has begun a crucial transition

Christopher Bell makes his parade lap during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6, 2022. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Christopher Bell makes his parade lap during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6, 2022. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

While Silly Season is always full of moves, two this year stand above the rest: Tyler Reddick jumping to 23XI Racing and Kyle Busch taking his place at Richard Childress Racing. The question of which will fare better with his new team is one that will be contemplated at length while we await the Daytona 500.

No matter what, however, Busch has won his last race for Joe Gibbs Racing, and that could be contagious within the organization in the next couple of years. In essence, JGR has traded the 37-year-old Busch for 20-year-old Ty Gibbs, the grandson of the owner and the reigning Xfinity Series champion.

Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are both 42 and still competing for JGR. How much longer either will hang in there is anyone’s guess, but the team’s lineup could be completely revamped by 2025 … except for Christopher Bell.

Joe Gibbs Racing needs Christopher Bell

When it comes to clutch driving in the NASCAR Cup Series, no one topped Christopher Bell this season, not even Ross Chastain at Martinsville. Bell was twice faced with win-or-go-home challenges in the playoffs, but he prevailed at both the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville to earn his way into his first Championship 4.

Few drivers in a situation like Bell’s ever win one elimination race. Bell won two in a month. It’s the kind of confidence-builder that could propel him to far more than the four victories he has in 108 career starts thus far.

In fact, Joe Gibbs Racing needs that much from Bell if it’s going to remain in the upper echelon of the Cup Series. While Ty Gibbs has half a season in the top series under his belt and the Xfinity Series trophy on his bookshelf, he could be a couple of seasons from consistent top-10 finishes – or he might not get there at all.

If Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin slip off into retirement in the next couple of years, it’s likely JGR would go after a veteran driver as one of the replacements. But the other presumably could be a call-up from JGR’s Xfinity team – which is going through a 100% rebuild at the moment.

And that is why JGR needs Christopher Bell, who turns 28 next month, to be the leader of its team soon rather than leaving for greener pastures.

Joe Gibbs didn’t repeat his mistake


NASCAR Mailbag: Ty Gibbs as a Team Owner? It’s Not as Crazy as It Sounds

Christopher Bell scored three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s six wins in 2022. Somewhere before the first victory, which came at Loudon as the regular season was winding down, the owner signed him to a contract extension that the team didn’t tout. Joe Gibbs was in protracted discussions with Kyle Busch, trying to resolve their contract issue, so revealing a deal with a younger, less-accomplished driver would have been problematic.

Announced or otherwise, it was still a better outcome for Bell than Erik Jones or Daniel Suarez ever got from Gibbs, so he wasn’t going to complain about the silence, which was broken by Fox Sports last month.  We still don’t know the details of the deal. But given the way the rest of the JGR Cup Series team is aging out, giving Bell anything less than a three-year extension would have been a mistake.

“I wish we would have done a 20-year deal right now, the way this has worked out,” Gibbs joked before the Championship 4 in Phoenix.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].