● Interstate Batteries – one of the most tenured team sponsors in NASCAR history – began its 32nd season as the founding sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) with an expanded presence that featured the brand’s iconic green livery across all four of JGR’s NASCAR Cup Series entries. As the green colors will adorn Bell’s car one final time for 2003 this weekend at Martinsville, Interstate Batteries returns to the iconic Martsinville track for the first time since 2007 when JJ Yeley piloted the No. 18 Interstate Batteries machine.
● Captain Clutch: With a major deficit in the point standings heading to Martinsville one year ago, Bell’s likely only path was to win to make the Championship 4. With their backs against the wall, Bell and the No. 20 team led 150 laps to bring home the victory and lock him into his first Championship berth at Phoenix, where he went on to finish third the following week.
● Final Four Bound: For the second year in a row, Bell brought home a victory in the Round of 8 to lock himself into the Championship 4 in Nov. 5 at Phoenix Raceway, this time at Homestead-Miami Speedway last weekend. Suffering from an ill-handling car through the middle portion of the race, Bell, crew chief Adam Stevens and the No. 20 team never gave up. They took advantage of a caution that helped gain them track position. Bell then surged to the lead with 16 laps to go and sealed the deal with another clutch playoff performance and a berth in the Final 4 on the line.
● Battle-Tested Crew Chief: Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens is as familiar with making it to the Championship 4 and winning championships as any other active crew chief. Thanks to the team’s win at Homestead-Miami Speedway this past weekend, Stevens will make his seventh Championship 4 appearance. His previous six have yielded two Cup Series championships with former JGR driver Kyle Busch. Busch and Stevens went to five Championship 4s in a row from 2015 to 2019.
●Well Above Average: Approaching the completion of the second season with the NASCAR NextGen Cup Series car, Bell has the third-best average finish in the playoffs with the current car through its 18 postseason races. Bell’s average playoff finish of 10.6 sits behind William Byron’s 7.4 and JGR teammate Denny Hamlin’s 9.9 over the past two seasons.
● Bell has one victory, one top-five and two top-10 finishes and has led a total of 159 laps in seven career Cup Series outings at Martinsville. Bell’s average Martinsville finish is 14.9.
What is your mindset for Martinsville this weekend now that you are locked into the Championship 4 in Phoenix two weekends from now?
“Your outlook for the race is completely different. So if the strategy presents itself, an opportunity to flip the stages and get track position, you take it because you’re not worried about points. Those guys have a lot more to race for than what I do now going into Martinsville with our Interstate Batteries Camry. The mentality is completely different for them than it is for me. You just have to be aware of that. Being able to focus on just winning the race and not having to score points definitely has its benefits. That’s where we’re at. I think we should be really competitive this week. Martinsville is obviously a good track for me. I look forward to going there and having a week with no pressure. We have Interstate Batteries on our car for the final time this year and we’ll do everything we can to win for those guys. It would be sweet to get them to victory lane and then get ready for Phoenix next week.”
Do you consider yourself this clutch guy, and do you look forward to having that opportunity to bring home a win in a clutch spot like you did at Homestead?
“I don’t want to be put in those positions. It’s not like I sit here and try to be put in a pinch. It was very nice in the Round of 12 this year to have a good Texas and just be able to survive, right? Once I got that good finish at Texas, Talladega was, ‘OK, collect our points.’ Charlotte, same thing: ‘Collect our points.’ Certainly is a lot easier, but they’re not always like that. We’ve been really blessed and fortunate to be able to execute in these positions. I’m just proud of the effort from everybody around me because I’m just a small piece of what the success is.”
What does it mean to be part of this special sponsorship program with Interstate Batteries on your car this weekend?
“I think I’ve said this a few times before, but driving the Interstate Batteries car is kind of a right of passage at JGR – it’s like you are officially part of the club. It’s a big deal to everyone at Interstate Batteries and everyone at JGR – they are the team’s founding partner. It’s an honor to be able to drive that car and would be even more special to get a win for those guys.”
With your Championship 4 experience last season, does that help you when you get to Phoenix again this year?
“I think everything in your career and your life will help you further on down the road. Certainly, making the final four – it will be a big help now that we’re able to go back there. I know that from last year, my Round of 8 didn’t go well because I wrecked out at Las Vegas and didn’t have a good Miami, but I was still able to win at Martinsville. Even on the flip side, Denny Hamlin was in on points at Martinsville, all of the way to the last corner, so fortunately for me, it worked the other way where I was out, and then I was in, in the very end, but you are never safe until that checkered flag falls at Martinsville unless you are locked in like we are.”
What are some of the things your crew chief Adam Stevens has brought to you that has sharpened you?
“Adam has been able to instill confidence in me by giving me fast racecars and cars that I know are going to handle good enough for me. He’s probably the best leader that I’ve ever driven for. He knows how to manage the highs and lows of a season, and he definitely can bring out the best in me.”