Transcript: Christopher Bell – Championship 4 Media Day Availability Phoenix

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Q. Hypothetically, you won the championship; have you thought about what you’d do with the trophy?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: No. I definitely have not really — well, not even really, I have not thought about winning at all. Just trying to focus on the task at hand. Got to win the race before you can win the championship.

Q. Haven’t thought about winning at all?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: No. I mean, every time I think about winning, I lose (laughter). I got to focus on the race first.

Q. Why do you think you’re in the best position to win the championship?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I think I’m in the best position to win the championship because our cars have been extremely fast week in and week out. I feel like I’ve got the best team out of the four.

I definitely like our chances.

Q. If you could make one change to the Playoff format, what would it be?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, so my answer for that is going to be completely different than what I feel like all you guys are going to say.

I’ve always been a traditional racer growing up. For me, I would rather have a whole-season champion and go out of cumulative points.

Q. Being the dark horse or underdog…


Q. You don’t see yourself as the dark horse at all?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Not really. I mean, I think that I am capable, just as capable, as the other three of winning. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s one race. Whoever performs the best for that one race is going to be a champion.

Q. From your perspective, what is a moment that has defined your season?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Man, I don’t know. I guess even early on in the season, I felt like we had the performance to be a champion contender. But that’s still a long way away.

I guess the defining moment for me would be Charlotte road course being down and out, then performing our best when it matters most at the end of that race.

Yeah, I think that really says a lot about our team because it would have been very easy to give up going into the Roval, which we knew was not going to be a great race for us. As it turned out, it was not a great race. We were back half of the top 10 car. The yellow flag came out, and we were able to perform how we needed to perform to win.

Q. You’re racing for a Cup championship. What goes through your mind when you hear something like that?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s quite sank in yet that the opportunity is in front of me. Just got to go out there and do our jobs. I just got asked a couple minutes ago if I thought about winning. The answer is, No, I have not thought about winning. Just trying to focus on being the best out of the four this weekend.

Q. Any advice from your teammates?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I haven’t heard from them yet. Kurt Busch actually reached out to me. That was really thoughtful of him. A guy I respect tons. He is kind of a teammate I guess in the Toyota household. That’s cool.

But my three teammates at JGR are obviously still racing and they’re trying to win a race this weekend, too. It doesn’t shock me that I haven’t heard from them.

Q. What sort of advice did Kurt give you?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don’t know. He’s been I guess somewhat of a mentor to me. He told me to enjoy the moment, basically don’t choke (laughter).

Q. If you were a second behind on the final lap at Phoenix, would you entertain the thought of doing what Ross did last weekend on the final lap?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: If NASCAR does not put a rule in place or police wall riding, I think that that will open up a huge, huge can of worms. I think that all four of us will do whatever it takes to win a championship.

Q. You have Adam calling the shots for you, someone that’s been in the scenario, won a championship.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, Adam, he’s a genius. He’s the reason why we’re here, for sure. I believe that we have the best team, and that stems from Adam.

Q. What is going to be the biggest obstacle for you Sunday?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, I think just car performance and seeing who has the best car. That’s going to be a huge part in who becomes the champion.

We’ll learn that tomorrow evening in practice.

Q. We’ve seen in past championships the final pit stop or the final adjustment is what made the champion. Does that give you pressure? Does that put more pressure on your crew chief?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, that’s not my job, right? My job is to focus on producing lap time whenever the green flag drops. I guess rolling down pit road, making sure I don’t speed, getting in my box hard, hit my marks whenever I stop.

The only thing that I can control or I have the most control over is producing lap time whenever the green flag drops and passing cars if I need to pass cars.

Pit stops, the adjustments, that’s out of my control. I have all the faith in the world that my pit crew and my crew chief will make the right adjustments and perform well on pit road.

Q. Twice in these Playoffs you were well below the cut line needing a win. Twice you come through. What has allowed this race team to come through in clutch situations?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: That’s a great question.

I think a lot of it is just the caliber of people that we have on this 20 group. Thinking of Adam Stevens, William and Tyler, my engineers, my mechanics that work on this car. I mean, it would have been so easy for them to give up and just not put in the effort going into those races whenever we were behind. But they did not give up. They put their best foot forward and allowed us to execute on the races that we needed the most.

It just all goes back to people. I do feel that I have the best people in the garage.

Q. Do you feel momentum is something that carries over week to week?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, a little bit. I should be the one that says no because my momentum has gone up and I have had no momentum, right? I was great through the round of 16, and then it all got taken away in one race at Texas when we had the two flat tires. Felt like I got momentum back at Charlotte road course, then we go to Vegas, 40 laps later, whatever it was, I get crashed out.

I don’t really think momentum will play a key in it.

Q. Adam is the only active multi-win crew chief. Has he given you any advice?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: This week has been very similar to every other week throughout the regular season. It will be interesting to see if that changes whenever we get at track on Friday, Saturday. We have an actual real practice session this week.

This week has been very normal. Nothing out of the ordinary compared to any other week. It will be interesting to see if that changes.

Q. Anything you are hoping to pick his brain about?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, not really. It’s the same old, same old. Hopefully we go and we have a great practice on Friday. I just hope we’re really competitive, which I expect we will be.

It’s still a practice session, a qualifying session and a race, just like every other week.

Q. Is Adam overlooked at all? He gets taken off the 18. He’s an active two-time champion. Have people forgotten that?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I think that maybe has a lot to do with my role. Nobody really realizes I drive race cars for a living I think for the most part.

I embrace that role. I guess I don’t do anything else to advocate myself or something like that. So any time it seems like people are teamed up with me, they’re off the radar.

Q. He’s made calls the last couple races that put you in position for you to do your job. That comes with his experience.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: He’s the best guy, for sure. Very grateful to be driving for him. I’m fully aware that I have the right guy on the pit box, absolutely.

Q. Do you really think you’re that obscure?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I do (laughter).

Q. How come?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, I don’t know. It’s just kind of been the way that it’s unfolded over my — I don’t really know how long. It’s fine. That’s fine by me.

Maybe I’ll be the least famous Cup champion one day (smiling).

Q. How many times have you watched the Ross Chastain last lap?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I’ve seen it, for sure.

Q. (No microphone.)


Q. Do you think your win as overshadowed?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: It was, but it doesn’t surprise me.

Q. Are you okay with that?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: No, I’m completely okay with that. It means I had a way less busy week this week than he did.

Q. What have your emotions been like this week knowing this weekend you get to compete for your first Cup title?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: It’s been very – trying to think of a good word to describe it – rewarding. This is a moment that I never thought would be a possibility. As a kid growing up, I never thought I would be contending for a Cup championship.

Just trying to soak it all in and make sure that I’m ready to perform my best on Sunday.

Q. How the last two rounds went for you, are you exhausted at this point? Do you still have adrenaline to get through this weekend?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I’m excited. I’m fired up. It’s so funny because after the first round I was really, really excited and just loving racing at that moment. Then we went to Texas and Talladega, and I was ready for off-season. I was ready for a break, ready to put racing on the back burner. Then back up to the top, then back down to the bottom.

It’s been a whirlwind of emotions. Got one race left, and I’m going to do my best to make the best of it.

Q. What does it take to run well here? What makes this track special?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, so what does it take to run well here? Number one, it takes a great race car. Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, I don’t know if there’s another team that’s been more successful here than Joe Gibbs Racing. That’s a great, great feather in my cap I think. I got the right people behind me.

Yeah, I mean, it seems like there’s a really big toss-up before short run and long run at Phoenix, similar to other places. Phoenix is an important one because it is so different. Trying to get that right. It’s a little bit of a luck of the draw. You can very easily change your setup to be good on the long run and struggle on the short run. And then if you get a caution at the end, it’s all for naught.

Q. The emotional whirlwind, have you experienced something like that before?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I have never in my life experienced anything like that, just the absolute lowest of lows to the highest of highs, in, at Charlotte road course, a matter of minutes, from thinking the race is over till the yellow flag coming out and winning the race.

Yeah, it was definitely an extreme high at the Charlotte road course and definitely an extreme low at Vegas when we were crashed out.

Q. You trust Adam’s instinct, his call. In the back of your mind are you questioning it because he’s putting you in a difficult position?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: No, I never question him. Even at Martinsville, whenever we pitted for tires, I think I restarted sixth, I felt a lot better winning at the road course whenever I was 12th with tires than I did at Martinsville. I thought that one was going to be a lot harder.

I never questioned him. That’s his job. I think that’s one thing we really do well: he lets me do my job, and I let him do his job.

Q. What was your first opportunity to talk to your parents after Martinsville? What was your reaction? I’m assuming they’ll be here this weekend?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, they will be. When we made the Round of 8, I said if we make it to Phoenix, I’ll bring them out here. They get to come this weekend. It will be a really cool deal.

The emotions stemmed from the fact that they believed in me after Vegas. They believed in me after Homestead when I didn’t believe in myself. I thought it was over. They kept telling me, You’re going to do it, you’re going to do it. That’s when it stemmed from when I said, We did it.

They believed in me to make it when I didn’t think it was going to happen. By golly, we did it, I get to talk to you.

Q. Do they still live in Oklahoma?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Still in Oklahoma.

Q. (Question about conversations with his mom and dad.)

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, ironically it went similar to that, them reminiscing about my younger days of racing and them thinking of moments that related to what happened at Martinsville, the Charlotte road course and stuff like that.

They’ve seen it before, for sure.

Q. Given how last year’s race played out, talk about how big pit road is going to be here.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, it’s huge. I think qualifying, while it does not mean a big deal for the race, I think it means a huge deal for pit selection. Winning the pole, the way it works out, just the Final 4 guys will pick first amongst themselves. Being the top qualifier and getting the number one pit stall is going to be a huge advantage.

Q. Can you imagine your life without Toyota in it?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, could I imagine it without them? I could. It definitely would not be here today, so…

I would more so be running Sprint cars, I would assume Sprint cars would have been my career path without them. I am very, very grateful that it worked out to the where they took a chance on me.

Yeah, I mean, this is the pinnacle, so I’m very thankful.

Q. You’re like the poster child for how to do a driver development program the right way.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: That means a lot to me. Really cool.

Q. Some of the cameras were on you at Martinsville, but half the other cameras were on Chastain. Did you have any idea what was going on behind you? Once you realized what happened…

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I had no idea what was going on. No clue.

Q. Is there a validation element to a Cup Series championship…

CHRISTOPHER BELL: It’s a different format, for sure. I think the format has definitely, within the industry, changed the way that champions are viewed.

If you look at using the World of Outlaws, you look at Brad Sweet, Donny Schatz, no doubt they are the best drivers for that season, right? Where the way that the NASCAR format is, it is a different kind of champion.

It doesn’t take a solid 36 weeks to make a championship; you got to get in the Playoffs and then you have to perform in the Playoffs. It is a different style championship than NASCAR.

Q. You’re young, but to validate your career, to establish yourself where you are, do you need the championship?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know where to go with that. I guess my answer would be, How do you view Denny Hamlin? Is Denny Hamlin a Hall of Fame driver? Is he as good of a driver as some of the other guys that have championships? My answer to that would be, yes, he is as good as some guys with championships.

Q. The fact that Adam has won twice under this format, does that give you added confidence?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, I don’t know. It’s just a race. Like, that’s the thing about this championship format, is it’s one race. You can hit it or you cannot hit it. Hopefully we get multiple opportunities at it and this is just my first.

He hit it twice at Homestead and they won. He missed it several times at Homestead and they lost. Fortunately for Kyle and Adam, they had multiple opportunities at it.

I hope we hit it this week, but I also hope this is not my last opportunity at it.

Q. You said earlier that Ross’s move would open a can of worms. Do you think NASCAR has to strike that down coming up to the race?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I severely — or I — not severely. I hope that they do because I can promise you that it will be used again.

Q. Isn’t that why we have the shortcut, though, to create a situation like that with the dogleg?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: The difference is the dogleg is hundredths of a second. The wall is much, much, much greater than that.

Q. To put a bow on what he was talking about with the way the championship comes together, is it arguably easier for stick and ball fans to see it this way? You might not be the best in the regular season, but you win the Super Bowl partially because of luck. Is it easier for the guys outside looking in on motorsports?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don’t know. That’s a great question. It definitely makes us more relatable. It used to be called the Chase, now it’s the Playoffs. I think it’s all been driven this direction to be more relatable to stick and ball fans that want to pay attention to NASCAR in the post-season.

Yeah, I guess it does make it more relatable.

Q. The new format is fluky, less than a decade old. What has the experience been like in all three of the series?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: It’s very similar or it is the same. That experience is invaluable. I hope that I can lean on that and use that to my advantage on Sunday.

Q. How does it feel to be the first driver to do it in all three series?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: That was mind-blowing. I had no idea that that was even up for grabs five years ago or six years ago, whenever I went to my first truck Final 4. That caught me off guard. That’s a cool stat.

Disappointed I didn’t win the Xfinity championship because I think that one is still up for grabs, too, the first to win all three.

Q. Your wins this year, kind of went through this last week, but you’ve had two real clinch wins. Is that more important, more epic in a season like this to make the Final 4, to do what you?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I’ve always said in my full-time NASCAR career that the goal is to make the Final 4. Whenever you get to the Final 4, it’s a toss-up. Whoever performs the best that race or has the best luck — you look at Carl Edwards who didn’t win a championship at JGR but was clearly the favorite in that race, clearly the best car. That’s heartbreaking.

The goal is to make the Final 4, then whatever happens happens.

Q. These guys were talking about stick and ball sports. Clutch wins in stick and ball sports stand out in people’s minds. How do you hold that into your long career in NASCAR?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I’m sure that those two wins at Charlotte road course and Martinsville are going to be very high on my win list for a long time to come.

Q. Having to win, is that more exhausting, or do you thrive on that?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I love it. I eat it up. I thrive on pressure. The more pressure that you can put on a situation, seems like the better I perform.

Q. Next year you should treat every weekend like it’s an elimination race?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yes. But with that being said, a lot of people asked me if I treat this weekend any different than other weekends. I go back to, if I do treat this weekend different than any other weekend, it simply means I wasn’t doing my job on week five, six, seven. It’s not like I want to win this race any more than I did at Dover or Charlotte in the spring.

Q. (Question about his parents.)

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Do I remember that? I guess so. I mean, I remember just being super nervous about the situation and not wanting to drive. But then as soon as I got in, I fell in love with it.

Q. They talked about you had a laser focus from an early age. No Plan B type of thing.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I decided pretty early on I was going to sacrifice my lifestyle to be a race car driver, whether that was a hobby stock driver, sprint car driver or NASCAR driver.

Q. After the race you said it, We did it, Mom and Dad. You do a good job of keeping your emotions to yourself. What have they meant?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, the biggest thing that hit me in that moment, whenever I won at Martinsville, was they kept telling me I was going to do it: You’re going to make Phoenix. You’re going to make the Final 4. That was after the Vegas crash, after we got out of Homestead and our back was against the wall.

I remember talking to my mom and dad, they said they think I’m going to do it. So whenever I won the race, that was the only thing that I could think of, was my mom and dad was right and we did it, we made the Final 4.

Q. You’ve talked about ups and downs. How much convincing did you need from them?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don’t know. I mean, in the moment, whenever they’re telling you that, you’re 33 points behind the cut line, it’s pretty much in one ear, out the other ear. But they believed in me even when I didn’t think it was possible for us to make it. They thought that we would, and we did.

Q. How many times do they get to go to the races?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: It’s going to be very special. I remember both of them were at Homestead whenever I won the Truck Series championship. They only get to go to two or three races a year. I’m glad they get to come to this one.

Q. (Question about clutch performances.)

CHRISTOPHER BELL: That didn’t work out, did it (laughter)?

Q. (No microphone.)

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don’t know. I’ve always believed in myself in those positions. It’s not like those two races changed my perspective on how I would perform under pressure. That’s not the truth.

But, yeah, I mean, the Round of 8 did not go how I wanted it to go. But looking back on it, it’s going to be something I remember for a long time.

Q. That ability to perform under pressure, does it give you an edge?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I think so. But I think everyone at the top level of motorsports is here for a good reason and they do a good job.

Q. (Question about the stage point deficit and overcoming that.)

CHRISTOPHER BELL: That’s a cool stat, for sure. But next year I hope I’m not in that position and I’m able to be a little bit seeded up further anyway.

Yeah, I’m excited about it. Hopefully it comes together. If not, we’ll go back next year and try to not be that low seed.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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