Before the 2019 season began, Christopher Bell expressed the belief that he was ready to go Cup racing and did not need another season in the Xfinity Series. Whether Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing executives believed him is open to conjecture, but the message was clear: They needed to act soon to avoid losing him to a rival manufacturer.
The problem was and still is that there is no room at the inn. It was easy to replace Daniel Suarez when Martin Truex Jr. was in need of a ride, but Erik Jones has shown a lot of promise and cannot be discarded as easily.
While Furniture Row Racing was in place, JGR had a great satellite partner. They helped that organization win the 2017 championship through a close alliance that put a premium on sharing notes and they know how to make this work for both parties.
JGR fully expects lightning to strike again with the Leavine Family Racing alliance. Certainly they don’t believe Bell will win the championship in his rookie season, but it is not unreasonable to expect him to make the playoffs. Bell is one of those natural talents that come along only once in a while – a talent like Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, or Jeff Gordon.
Bell expects to win in his rookie season – a feat that was last accomplished by Logano in 2009 in a weather-aided race at New Hampshire. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2013 ROTY), Kyle Larson (2014), Chase Elliott (2016), and William Byron (2018) have not been able to win in their first full seasons. More importantly, Erik Jones (2017) could not accomplish the feat and that is the driver of most concern to Bell.
Bell expects to win because he has done that a lot in the Xfinity series in the past two years. In 2018 he won seven times. In 2019 he won eight times. Bell even had a victory in the second series in only eight attempts in 2017. And if Bell can win during the regular season, he will be locked into the playoffs and insure a points’ position of at least 16th.
Determining where Bell might win could be a little trickier. His background with Sprint and Midget cars on dirt gives him exemplary skill with throttle control. That suggests a short, flat track like Martinsville, Phoenix, or New Hampshire is a place he should be watched closely. JGR will insure that he has extremely powerful power plants, so Bell will show occasional flashes of brilliance on unrestricted, intermediate speedways.
Combine his throttle skill with power, and our prediction is that Bell might well earn his first win on a track like Richmond Raceway that has been kind to newbies like Ryan Newman or Kasey Kahne from the dirt track ranks in the past.
Unfortunately Bell is going to suffer through the same issues that all Young Guns face and that will be a lack of consistency. The level of competition at the senior level is exponentially greater than in Xfinity; 75 or 80 percent of the racers he’ll face would be just as good as or better than Bell in the same equipment – and half of them will be in equal or better equipment.
Moreover, the veterans have not only a card up their sleeves, but an entire deck. They can beat Bell in a variety of ways and each time he comes close and does not seal the deal, he’ll get just a little more anxious.
Bell will have to resist the urge to drive over his head in the first half of the season, but there is little in his history that suggests he is overly prone to bouts of excitement. Bell is a level-headed driver capable of putting mistakes behind him. He has made his share of mistakes in Xfinity and rebounded to win.
That personality trait will serve him well in the Cup series.
2020 Driver Profiles:
17. Ryan Newman
18. Matt DiBenedetto
19. Jimmie Johnson
20. Tyler Reddick
21. Chris Buescher
22. Cole Custer
23. Austin Dillon
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
25. Ryan Preece
26. Ty Dillon
27. Bubba Wallace
28. Michael McDowell
29. Ross Chastain
30. Daniel Suarez