Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with Christopher Bell

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In Norman, Oklahoma, the Sooners are king.

Growing up in the city 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City, the Sooners were a regular part of Christopher Bell‘s life, especially since his father, David, was a high school basketball coach when he was a little.

“As a kid I guess that’s what I dreamed of doing, was playing football and basketball,” Christopher Bell told NBC Sports. “Obviously that got derailed at a very young age once I got introduced to racing.”

Bell was 4 or 5 years old when he was invited by the family of one of his father’s players to watch him compete in a micro-sprint car race.

Christopher Bell drives his No. 4 Toyota at Michigan International Speedway in August. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“I was hooked ever since,” Bell said. “From then on, I started racing when I was 6. Haven’t missed a weekend since.”

The most recent race weekend saw Bell, 22, win his seventh Camping World Truck Series race and his fifth of the year. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver leads the playoff standings after one race. It’s been almost a year since he made it to the championship race, the only driver out of four born after 1980.

This year has seen Bell get his feet wet in the Xfinity Series, making four starts for Joe Gibbs Racing. He’ll also compete in the final four races of the year.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: Do you have a favorite basketball team?

Bell: I used to love the Hornets. Whenever the Hornets, they were in New Orleans and then I think Hurricane Katrina got them. Then they moved to Oklahoma City (temporarily). So whenever the Hornets were in Oklahoma City (in 2005-06), I don’t think I ever missed a game. I loved the Hornets, so that was really cool. I have a lot of memories of going to Hornets games with my father as a kid.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun race you’ve ever been part of?

Bell: Homestead last year was a ton of fun. I don’t know if that’s the most fun I’ve ever had. But the last 20 laps of the truck race at Homestead last year was really, really intense. Homestead races really well. There’s a bunch of different grooves there. Me, Matt Crafton and Timothy Peters were all racing for second place in the championship and it was a heck of a race and that was a ton of fun.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup Bristol night race, what would you choose as your intro song?

Bell: “Hall of Fame” by The Script. … As a race car driver, your dream is to be the greatest. … I want to be in the Hall of Fame one day.

NBC Sports: Which phone app do you use the most that’s not social media related?

Bell: I don’t ever really use my phone that much. I use “Sleep Man” a lot, which is a fan that I can use in hotels because I sleep with a fan on. That would be my No. 1. … Basically it just makes noise like a fan would. Because I always sleep with fans, but in hotels you don’t have a fan.

NBC Sports: In your career, what’s the best advice or criticism you’ve received?
Bell: Recently, it would have to be from Kyle Busch. Kyle Busch’s best piece of advice he gave me was ‘to let it happen.’ If it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. Don’t try and force it. So that sank in really hard because Kyle Busch has won so many races and he said ‘if you try too hard, it’s not going to happen. You can’t force it to happen. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.’ That’s really sunk in.

NBC Sports: How did you meet Kyle Busch?

Bell: We were actually going to a Snowball Derby test (in 2014) and he went with us.

Christopher Bell talks with Kyle Busch at Martinsville Speedway in 2016. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What were your initial impression of him?

Bell: I was shocked how he was just another, I don’t know. We flew on a plane from Concord, (North Carolina), to Pensacola, (Florida). I didn’t even know he was on the plane with us`and then all of a sudden we get off the plane and I end up riding in the car with him. We get to the race track and he was just in a T-shirt laying on the ground, working on his late model harder than any of his employees. It was cool to see how involved he was and how he was working on the car. He was on the radio asking what the car needed, then he was the one making changes to the car. I was blown away by how hands-on he was about the whole thing.

NBC Sports: You’ve got four more Xfinity races at the end of the year. If you could pick a track to race in Xfinity at, what would it be?

Bell: Bristol. Bristol is badass. The way the banking is, the short track. It’s a short track that races with speed like a mile-and-a-half. To me that’s just a recipe for awesomeness, man. It’s just one of the coolest races ever, because of all the stands wrapped around the race track. You’re basically racing in a coliseum. It’s one of my favorite tracks we go to.

NBC Sports: What’s been your highest high and the lowest low of our career?

Bell: The highest high was definitely winning the Chili Bowl. That was my dream race … that’s kind of what racing means to me is the Chili Bowl. So to win it was something that was incredible. My lowest low was probably wrecking last year at (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) while qualifying. I wrecked a lot of trucks last year and then I went to Canada. Me and my crew chief (Jerry Baxter) sat down and we realized we can’t wreck. We had a big conversation about not wrecking and then I went out and wrecked in qualifying. So that hurt really bad. That stung.

Previous Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

Matt Tifft

Tyler Reddick

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

Garrett Smithley

J.J. Yeley

Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

Austin Cindric

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Clint Bowyer, William Byron look to extend streak of first-time winners in playoffs

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In the 15-year-history of the NASCAR playoff era, only 16 times has a Cup Series playoff driver earned their first win of the season in the playoffs itself.

Two of those occurrences have happened in the last two weeks.

Kyle Larson got the streak going with his dominating win in the Round of 12 opener at Dover International Speedway. That snapped a 75-race winless streak for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

It continued Monday when Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney barely beat Ryan Newman to win at Talladega Superspeedway. It snapped a 37-race winless streak for Blaney.

Can the first-time winner steak continue?

If it does, it will take place Sunday at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). But of the 16 instances a playoff driver earned their first win in the playoffs, it’s only happened once on the 1.5-mile track.

Jack Roush and Mark Martin celebrate winning the Banquet 400 on Oct. 9, 2005 at the Kansas Speedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Mark Martin was the winner on Oct. 9, 2005, a day that saw Roush Fenway Racing put four of its five cars in the top five.

It was Martin’s first win in 52 races. It was just the second time a playoff driver’s first win in a season came in the playoffs. The first was three races earlier at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Ryan Newman).

Ahead of Sunday’s race there are only two Cup Series playoff drivers left who could potentially extend the streak: William Byron and Clint Bowyer.

Aside from securing them spots in the Round of 8, wins by either would be notable in their own right.

A victory by Bowyer would be his first on his home track in 23 attempts in the Cup Series. Like Martin, a victory would end a 52-race winless streak.

Bowyer’s best finish at Kansas was a runner-up finish in his second start in 2007. Since then he has just two top fives at Kansas, including a fifth-place finish in this year’s spring race.

Bowyer enters this race 11th in the standings, 24 points back from the cutoff line.

“We know what we have to do this weekend,” Bowyer said in press release. said. “We need to get stage points, a great finish and maybe even a win. We finished fifth here in May, we just have to do a few spots better this weekend.”

A win by Byron would be significant because he’s yet to win a Cup Series race in 67 starts.

In his previous three Kansas starts Byron’s only managed to finish once. The Hendrick Motorsports driver placed 20th in the spring after starting third. He won in his lone Truck Series start there in 2016 and had a top five in his only Xfinity Series start at the track in 2017.

After he was eliminated in a wreck at Talladega, Byron enters Sunday last on the playoff grid, 27 points behind the cutoff and essentially in a must-win scenario.

“I think it will be interesting to see how things play out with how our mile-and-half packages have evolved just throughout the year,” Byron said in a press release. “Whether it continues that trend this weekend or whether it reverts back to how it was in the spring at Kansas. I’m just interested to see how that is since the cars have come a long way since that race. I’m also interested to see with it being an elimination race, I think it will open things up for different strategies. It’s a bit of an unknown at this point.”

NASCAR completes merger with International Speedway Corp.

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NASCAR announced Friday morning it had closed on its merger with International Speedway Corp.

Jim France will serve as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. Lesa France Kennedy will be the executive vice chair. Steve Phelps has been appointed president and will oversee all operations of the company.

“The merger of NASCAR and ISC represents a historic moment for our sport,” France said in a statement. “There is much work ahead of us, but we’re pleased with the progress made to position our sport for success. Delivering for our race fans and partners is job number one and we look forward to doing that better than ever for years to come.”

As part of the new organization, the Board of Directors will consist of France, France Kennedy, Mike Helton and Gary Crotty, chief legal officerPhelps’ direct reports will include Ed Bennett, executive vice president & chief administrative officer; Jill Gregory, executive vice president & chief marketing and content officer; Craig Neeb, executive vice president & chief innovation officer; Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president & chief racing development officer; and Daryl Wolfe, executive vice president & chief operations and sales officer.

Helton and John Saunders will serve as senior advisors under the new leadership structure.

“With great racing across all of our series, an exciting 2020 schedule on tap, and the Next Gen race car in development, we are better positioned than ever before to lead the sport into a new era of growth,” said Phelps in a statement. “We have a strong, experienced leadership team in place with incredibly dedicated employees at every level throughout our organization. Our best days are ahead of us and our new organization is going to allow us to better deliver great racing to our fans everywhere.”

NASCAR’s Friday schedule at Kansas Speedway

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The NASCAR playoff race weekend at Kansas Speedway begins today.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will each hold two practice sessions.

The wunderground.com forecast predicts a high of 74 degrees, partly sunny skies and a 10% chance of rain.

Here’s the day’s schedule.

(All times are Eastern)

Noon – 11 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

3:05 – 3:55 p.m.  – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:05 – 4:55 – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

5:05 – 5:55 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:05-7:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

 

Friday 5: Is this Kyle Busch’s time?

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Will this become the fall of Kyle Busch?

Not fall as in stumble but fall as in season — when he takes control of the Cup playoffs.

Busch, the regular-season champion, has been many things this postseason — moody, controversial and mistake-prone — but he’s not been a dominant figure on the track.

His average finish in the first half of these playoffs is 16.6 — marking the fourth time since 2015 he’s had an average finish of 14th or worse halfway through the postseason.

Busch, though, made it to the championship race each of those four years, winning the title in 2015.

But with Busch, there’s always something more.

Instead of a streak of Championship 4 appearances, it is his winless streak that draws more attention. Busch has failed to win in the past 17 races, his longest drought since going 36 races between Cup victories in 2016-17.

Since Busch last won at Pocono in early June — before Justin Haley’s improbable win at Daytona, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. losing his ride at Roush Fenway Racing and then signing with JTG Daugherty Racing and Bubba Wallace and Busch beating and banging at Watkins Glen — he’s seen Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones all win.

Miscues have hindered Busch’s playoffs. He hit the wall on Lap 3 of the opener at Las Vegas. Busch rallied from two laps down to be back on the lead lap before running into the rear of Garrett Smithley’s car. After the race, Busch called out Smithley and Joey Gase, questioning their credentials to be in the Cup Series.

Busch’s Dover run was hurt by a speeding penalty. He had a flat tire after contact with Kyle Larson on a restart at the Charlotte Roval and had to pit. A suspension issued later led to his day ending. Several laps down and with nothing to gain, Busch drove the car back to the garage during a red flag. His Talladega race was impacted by an accident, just like about every other driver. The only playoff driver not involved in an incident in the race was winner Ryan Blaney.

But things could be changing for Busch.

For all his struggles, he’s finished second three times during his winless drought and had six top-five results. Only Hamlin (10 top fives), Truex (eight) and Kevin Harvick (seven) have had more top fives than Busch in this stretch.

Provided Busch advances — he is 41 points Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a transfer spot — he’ll likely be the points leader heading into the Round of 8 after Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Round of 8 begins at Martinsville Speedway. Busch finished third there in the spring. He’s not placed worse than eighth in any of the five short track races this season. He led 66 laps before finishing 10th at Texas and won at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, leading 177 of 312 laps.

Get Busch to Miami (again) and he could leave as a two-time champion.

2. Tough challenge for hopefuls 

The most likely way Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer or William Byron — the four drivers outside a playoff race — will advance to the next round will be to win Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Bowman trails Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot by 18 points. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points. Bowyer trails Logano by 24 points, and Byron trails Logano by 27 points.

The only time Byron and Bowyer outscored Logano in a race by as many points as they trail was at Dover in the playoffs when Logano spent the first 24 laps in the garage.

Bowman has outscored Logano by 18 points in three races this year: Dover playoff race, Talladega in April (Bowman was second) and Kansas in May (Bowman was second)

Elliott has had better results. He has outscored Logano by 22 or more points in a race five times this year: Martinsville in March (Elliott outscored Logano by 28 points), Talladega in April (22 points), Kansas in May (29 points), Watkins Glen (46 points) in August and the Bristol night race (25 points) in August. Elliott won at Talladega and Watkins Glen. He was second at Martinsville, fourth at Kansas and fifth at Bristol.

That’s the challenge those four drivers face this weekend trying to knock Logano out of the final playoff spot.

3. Looking to help 

Brad Keselowski expressed his concern about team members who will be or could be losing their jobs in the near future as the sport goes through change.

He recently sent this tweet:

So what can Keselowski do?

“I haven’t gotten an answer to it yet, but I’m looking at it, trying to think about what ideas there might be” Keselowski said. “I haven’t come up with a solution yet. I just wanted those people to know that are affected by it that I cared about it. I can’t employ the couple of hundred people that are probably going to get laid off in the next few weeks, but I’m sure I can do something for someone.”

4. Youth movement?

The last three races have been won by three of the five youngest drivers in the playoffs: Chase Elliott (Charlotte Roval), Kyle Larson (Dover) and Ryan Blaney (Talladega).

Elliott is 23, Larson is 27 and Blaney is 25. The playoffs also include William Byron (21 years old) and Alex Bowman (26). Erik Jones (23) was eliminated in the first round.

5. Drought busters

Five drivers have ended winless streaks of 30 or more races this season: Kyle Larson (75 races) Denny Hamlin (45), Erik Jones (42), Ryan Blaney (37) and Kurt Busch (30).

Among drivers with long winless droughts: Paul Menard (299 races), David Ragan (237), Chris Buescher (118), Ryan Newman (99), Jimmie Johnson (90), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (86), Austin Dillon (66), Clint Bowyer (52), Aric Almirola (36),

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