Christopher Bell was expected to win a NASCAR Cup Series race this year with Joe Gibbs Racing, but he shocked the racing world Sunday by winning the second race of the season on a road course.
Christopher Bell ran down former champion Joey Logano and passed him with one lap remaining to win on the Daytona Road Course. Bell, 26, called the victory “surreal,” and he wasn’t the only one surprised.
“On a road course? Yeah, I’m surprised,” Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin said. “But honestly, he’s got an experienced crew chief over there in Adam Stevens. Once he got track position, he was very, very fast.”
Christopher Bell has been in the Joe Gibbs Racing pipeline the past four years, but he had to wait for his opportunity to drive a Cup car for the elite team. Christopher Bell won 16 NASCAR Xfinity Series races for Gibbs from 2017-2019, including a series-high eight in 2019.
Christopher Bell was ready to move to the Cup series last year, but Gibbs did not have an open ride. He wound up driving for Leavine Family Racing, an underfunded mid-pack team. He replaced Erik Jones in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota this season.
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A young driver accustomed to winning races, Christopher Bell had to endure a winless season last year while being content just to gain experience in Cup cars.
“This is the happiest moment I have had in a very, very long time,” Christopher Bell told the media during his post-race interview. “2020 was one of the hardest seasons I have had in my racing career. I think I won a race at the Chili Bowl and that was it for the rest of the year. … 2020 was a really, really low point for me. And just to come back in 2021 and be able to win in the Cup series this early on a road course is something I am going to cherish for the rest of my life.”
Christopher Bell, one of the top young drivers on the circuit, was expected to be competitive this season and contend for a spot in the NASCAR playoffs. Many even expected him to win a race in his first season with Gibbs.
But even Bell admits he is surprised it came on a road course. He led just five laps but challenged two Cup champions and two of the best road racers in the series in Chase Elliott and Logano.
“After last year, I would say that I am not overly shocked,” Christopher Bell said. “(But) to win the first road course of the year is quite surprising. Last year the road courses were not my best finishes, but speed-wise I was fast at both of them. I certainly knew we would be in contention, or at least competitive. Winning? I probably didn’t see that one coming.”
Though surprised, Hamlin, who has 44 career wins, was impressed by Christopher Bell.
“He’s definitely doing some good things and is very, very fast,” Hamlin said. “So it was a well-earned win. It’s not like he backed into it. He had to drive to the front.”
Christopher Bell has bright future at Joe Gibbs Racing
The surprising victory was a big boost for the future of Joe Gibbs Racing, which features veteran drivers in Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Another young driver, Ty Gibbs, won the Xfinity Series race on the Daytona Road Course Saturday in his first major NASCAR race. Ty Gibbs is the grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs.
Also Read: Who is new race winner Ty Gibbs?
“It is a huge deal for us,” Joe Gibbs said said of the back-to-back wins at Daytona. “To have Christopher and everything that he fought through last year and to come back this year … Christopher got in that car last year and never made a lap when he was going to those race tracks. It was a lot to overcome and he did show speed at a number of race tracks. It’s great for him to get that victory.”
The victory secures a playoff spot for Christopher Bell in his first season for Gibbs.
“To have Christopher already in the playoffs, it’s a big deal for us, for sure,” Gibbs said. “It’s hard to do.”
Hamlin said Bell’s early victory bodes well for JGR.
“A great two days for the future of JGR,” he said. “The more competitive cars we can have in the Toyota stable, the more information we can share, and it will be good information. It is very, very difficult to have four cars that are very good and competitive, and certainly I believe we can have that this year, and it’s already starting off really well. … I’m happy for him. This is a great step.”