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

Leave a comment

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.”

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

NBCSN
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

Leave a comment

Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

and on Facebook

Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

Leave a comment

Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.