Christopher Bell would prefer not to ‘waste another year’ of ‘prime’

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Whether he is racing in the Cup or Xfinity Series next year, Christopher Bell would be “thrilled either way,” but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver thinks he’s ready for NASCAR’s biggest stage after 27 starts and five wins in Xfinity.

“I don’t feel like I need another year of Xfinity,” Bell said in a Wednesday teleconference.

The defending Camping World Truck Series champion made his comments hours after team owner Joe Gibbs told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “we have to keep him,” and that Bell is “scheduled” for another season in Xfinity.

Gibbs said Bell’s future is “kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.”

But Bell is confident in what his future has in store for him.

“I think the best way for me to win at the Cup level is to get there and start trying at it,” Bell said. “I feel like I’m different than the guys that have been coming up here over the last couple years, and everyone is saying that they’re moving guys up too quick, and the difference is that I’m 23 years old, I’m not 18, 19 or even 20 years old.

“I’ve got a lot of racing experience, and right now I feel like I’m in my prime as a race car driver. If the opportunity comes to go Cup racing next year, I definitely don’t want to waste another year in my prime, so to speak, of not learning and not getting that experience of Cup racing.”

As of now, all four of JGR’s Cup rides are filled for next year and Furniture Row Racing, where Erik Jones was teammates with Martin Truex Jr. in 2017, is now a one-car team seeking additional sponsorship for Truex in 2019.

That leaves the possibility of a second ride there less likely. Truex is a free agent after this season but indicated last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

Regardless, Bell said he has “every intention of staying” with JGR and Toyota, adding he’d “probably be running either the All‑Star sprint cars or maybe the (World of) Outlaws” if Toyota hadn’t added him to its driver development program in 2015.

“Even if the Cup deal doesn’t work out for next year, which it looks like it’s not going to, I’m still going to be sitting in a really fast race car at a level in motorsports where I never really dreamed I’d be at,” Bell said.

In his rookie season, Bell leads the Xfinity points standings after 19 races and is coming off winning three consecutive races. He will try to make it four straight Saturday at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBC). The last series regular to win four in a row was Sam Ard in 1983.

All of Bell’s five Xfintiy wins to date have occurred on ovals.

Bell will get just his fourth chance to compete on a road course in a national NASCAR series this weekend.

“Going for four in a row would obviously be huge, but obviously it’s going to be a tall order to win four in a row going to a road course that I’ve never been before with guys that are racing that have a ton of experience there,” Bell said. “I’m not going to be heartbroken if I don’t win four in a row, but I will be heartbroken if I don’t win five races this year.  So that’s the only stat that matters to me are those race wins.”

Bell has two concerns heading to WGI, the first of three road courses in four races. The first is shifting.

“I don’t know if I’ve had a road course weekend where I haven’t blown a motor yet by missing a downshift or missing an upshift and accidentally downshifting,” Bell said. “So that’s the No. 1 goal is to get through the weekend without blowing a motor.

“It’s just so opposite of everything that I’ve done in my past, but I’ve really enjoyed the road races that I’ve done, especially at Canada. I feel like I’ve been fairly competitive up there.”

In two Truck Series starts at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bell has finishes of fifth and 26th (engine).

“The only thing that’s hindering my confidence right now is just the fact that I was so awful at Road America last year,” Bell said of the race where he started fourth and finished 19th. “That’s the only reason that I don’t feel like I could compete for the win this week.”

Points are another concern for Bell on the road course.

“(Justin) Allgaier is an excellent road racer,” Bell observed. “Daniel Hemric does a really good job on the road courses.  So there’s a lot of guys that I’m in a really tight points battle with that are really good road racers, and unfortunately for me, I don’t have that star by my name that says I’m a really good road racer.”

Bell has a 16-point lead over second-ranked Elliott Sadler. Hemric is fourth (-23 points) and Allgaier is fifth (-52).

Said Bell: “So luckily with the stages, I feel like the guys that are competing for wins will pit before the stage ends, and that’ll open up some stage points for us if I’m not up to speed and I’m not competing for the win.”

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury

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CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”

 

 

 

Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying

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CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather

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CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.