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Bell Following Steady Path of Improvement into NASCAR Playoffs

Forgive Christopher Bell initially saying during a recent interview that he “remembered” Jeff Gordon winning NASCAR’s inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. Bell then caught himself, realizing he was born four months after that historic stock car race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Actually,” he said sheepishly, “I don’t remember the first race, but I’ve seen highlights of it.”

Next month, Bell wants to create his set of highlights in the Speedway’s first NASCAR Cup Series road race, and he would be a popular winner given the way he has followed Gordon’s path to stardom.

Like Gordon, Bell was a USAC Midget national champion at a young age, driving for Keith Kunz Motorsports, an Indiana organization based in Columbus. That was 2013, which seems remarkable given how much of an impact Bell has had on the sport. He is still only 26 years old.

Oklahoma native Bell has won World of Outlaws sprint car races and is in his third season in that series in partnership with Chad Boat, the son of former midget standout and INDYCAR driver Billy Boat. Bell won the prestigious Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, three consecutive years (2017-19).

NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series wasn’t formed in time for Gordon to start there, but Bell did, and he won the season championship in 2017 with five race wins. His move the Xfinity Series garnered 16 race wins over three seasons – Gordon won five in two full seasons – to earn a Cup Series ride.

Bell’s rookie season in NASCAR’s top division didn’t go as he had hoped in 2020 – “I didn’t prove myself,” he said -- but one can make the argument that he has been too hard on himself. He was driving the No. 95 Toyota of Leavine Family Racing, which had a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing in what turned out to be the team’s final Cup season. (The assets were sold to JGR at year’s end.)

Bell wasted no time making good on his promise to be better in 2021. He qualified in the fifth position for the season-opening Daytona 500, then won the road course race at Daytona International Speedway the next week. Now a race winner in the Cup Series, Bell appears to be on a path worthy of the comparison to Gordon, though Gordon was a few years younger at this point in his career.

“This year is a very important year for me having moved over to JGR,” said Bell, who stands 15th in the standings with a projected playoff position of 12th. “I feel like I have all the resources around me to make sure I have success in this series, and I’m excited to prove myself.

“Last year I feel I didn’t prove myself in the Cup Series – didn’t feel I proved I was worthy of being here, so I just need to go out and compete for wins and hopefully (get more than one).”

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