Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell was made available to media as part of the NASCAR Playoff Media Day.
CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 20 Yahoo Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
Did you do pit stop practice or anything with your new crew?
“I did go to pit practice yesterday to certainly get acclimated with the team and let them know I’m all in, and I didn’t want the first time that they worked with me whenever I rolled down pit road in Darlington. On this new team, we have Derrell (Edwards). I drove for Derrell in 2021. I believe he’s the only one that I’ve driven for in the past. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens, but I’m excited about working with such a talented group. Wish nothing but greatness for the former 20 group. Jackson (Gibbs), Nick (McBeath), KJ (Kevon Jackson) and all of those guys on the 20 group have been amazing people for me. I’m grateful to drive for them. They’ve done a really great job and I wish them nothing but success on the 54.”
Do you need to know your pit crew guys well and do you feel like you lose anything because you don’t know these guys as well as you know the other guys?
“I don’t know. From my standpoint, I don’t think it is as important as is – they’ve told me they’ve studied film of me getting in and out of the box and knowing my tendencies of whether I stop long, or if I stop short, or go towards the wall or outside the wall. From my standpoint, it really doesn’t change, but from their standpoint going from Ty (Gibbs) to myself is going to be a slight adjustment. I know that we have the best people in the business across all of the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) pit crews and so I know that they will be able to make the adjustment.”
Is there anything from either wreck in Daytona that you liked or disliked what you saw?
“Honestly, I haven’t really learned much or know much about it from that aspect. I’m glad that everyone was okay, but I don’t know much about it.”
So, you are just focusing on the Playoffs and if there is any changes, you will wait for your team to inform you?
“Yeah, definitely. My job is to drive the car and that’s what I’m going to do. Try to drive it to the best of my abilities.”
Last year, you had to win twice to make the Championship 4. Assuming you don’t want to use that same playbook this year?
“That’s not a reliable playbook for sure. It starts at Darlington in a couple of days. The round of 16 went really well for us last year, so hopefully we are able to repeat that and then go to Texas and not have a DNF. That was kind of the downfall of our Playoffs. We were able to save it with a couple of wins at Charlotte and Martinsville, but just the DNFs. You can’t have DNFs. You’ve got to get through. Even if you don’t have a great car but be able to maximize your points and that was something we didn’t do last year and we are focused on this year.”
What did you learn about yourself last year in the Playoffs?
“That was really cool. I was really proud of the effort of the team. I don’t know if I necessarily learned anything else about myself, but just that Chris Sherwood, my car chief, Wes Lap, my mechanic, (Chris) Chase (mechanic), Tyler (Allen, engineer), William (Hartman, engineer), Adam (Stevens, crew chief), every one that works on this 20 car. When we were on the outside looking in, it would have been really easy to say that we are done, we are not going to put our full effort into this car, and they didn’t. Both times that we needed a win, they brought the best piece and a piece capable of doing it. Just very thankful to be able to drive for such a talented group of people.”
Did being able to pull of those wins in that moment give you a new confidence?
“I don’t know. My job as the driver is to maximize the equipment that’s given to me. At Martinsville, for example – Charlotte is a little bit different because we really didn’t have the best car there, but circumstances allowed us to win with the yellow flag coming out and taking tires, but at Martinsville, our car was super good and I was able to maximize that and didn’t screw up, which was good, but the team is the ones that who put me in that position, so I think the credit goes to them.”
How do you view the Playoff field this year?
“I would say that the points are definitely tighter than they normally are. We have about three guys, who I think have a pretty good advantage over the field, the rest of us are right there. I think it is going to be a matter of execution and that is kind of every year, but more so this year with the points being tighter. You can’t afford mistakes, and if you have a mistake, you are going to be behind quickly.”
How will you approach the Championship 4 race differently if you get there?
“I don’t think anything changes. Last year, certainly the morale was not good, down and everyone was very sad, but I think our preparation was not affected by that, and ultimately, our race was not affected by that either. We were one pit stop away from possibly being a championship holder, so hopefully I get another shot at it.”
Is it frustrating that race has been recently determined on pit road?
“That’s NASCAR racing.”
What did having to have the clutch wins do for your nerves?
“It definitely – I think it helped me be able to understand how to handle my nerves, but I say it a lot, but its more so on the team. They are the ones that have to build the race car, have to prepare the race car and make it fast enough to win. My job is to simply not screw it up. I’m just grateful that I drive for the best people in the business.”
Did it show you something?
“Yeah, and ultimately, I hope that we are never in that position again, but it is nice to know that they are not going to give up and throw the towel in before it’s over.”
Has there been a moment this year when you wish you had Kyle Busch’s wisdom around?
“I don’t know. It is hard to say. No time in the season where I can pinpoint and say that we missed him here, but our team is doing really good, and I would say we are thriving with all four of our drivers. Ty (Gibbs) has been doing an amazing job. The fact that he almost made the championship chase in his rookie year is a feat in itself. I think right now our Camrys are the fastest that they’ve ever been since that I’ve been in the Cup Series.”
Are you surprised Kyle Busch had as much success as he did this year?
“No, not one bit. I knew he would be a threat immediately.”
Are you underrated?
“I hope so, because I don’t feel like I’m rated very highly.”
Does that matter to you?
“That’s fine. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
How would you sum up your regular season?
“Not ideal. What is crazy is we finished fourth in the regular season standings, which is amazing. If you would have told me from February 1st, that you are going to finish fourth in the regular season standings, I would be like yeah, I’ll take that, but after living it, there were so many more opportunities on the table that got left there. That was very disappointing and encouraging at the same time, because I know that we have all of the pieces to not be underrated. Just have to put them all together, and if we do put them all together, I think greatness is ahead of us.”
You only have one less top-10 at this point than last year. Is it a shift in mindset because of what you were able to achieve last season in the Playoffs?
“I think it is just a matter of seeing the potential right in front of us and not being able to reach the potential on a weekly basis. I don’t even know how many top-10s or top-fives that I have but I know that there were many, many more out there that were right in front of us. Not only top-10s, but top-fives and race wins that were right in front of us, in the palm of our hands that we let slip away. I know that our success could be much greater.”
Is it just execution?
“Yes, absolutely. It was not experimenting at all. I can probably rattle off four or five races right now that were easy top-fives and potential race wins that we could just get to the end of the race. I think it certainly just comes down to execution.”
Is this team is Playoff ready?
“I think we are headed in the right direction. I’m glad that we were able to get through – Indy Road Course was a good stepping stone. We were able to get out there with a solid top-10, Watkins Glen was really good. I feel really good about that. I like the schedule in the Playoffs. It fits us really well. I think we are ready, yes.”
What is Adam Stevens like behind the scenes?
“He’s intense. Very intense. He wants one thing and that is to do well.”
Do you have much of a relationship outside of the race track?
“We’re pretty much business.”
Are you more calm about approaching this season’s Playoffs?
“I would say I feel pretty similar, maybe a little bit more comfortable knowing what it’s all about. Making the Final Four is a great experience, whether you win or lose, it is a great – you will be more prepared the next time you go. Hopefully, we will be able to put ourselves in position and if we execute, I think we are certainly capable of it.”
Do you go into this Playoff with a new mindset?
“Sitting here today, I would say that I have the same mindset, but just the ups and downs that we went through last year, I don’t want to go through that again. I would love to not have a DNF at Texas, the first of the round of 12, and not have a DNF at Vegas, the first of the round of 8. Consistency has been our Achilles heel for the 20 car, and hopefully we can do a better job of that and level it out a little more, instead of having these peaks and valleys.”
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