In the build up to Joe Gibbs Racing’s announcement of a restructuring of its crew chief assignments for 2019, Christopher Bell “prayed” for one outcome.
He wanted to keep Jason Ratcliff as his crew chief.
Bell, who will turn 23 on Sunday, got an early birthday present when his prayer was answered.
Ratcliff will remain as the crew chief on Bell’s No. 20 Toyota in the Xfinity Series for a second year.
Together, Bell and Ratcliff earned seven Xfinity wins, a rookie record. That propelled them to the championship race in Homestead-Miami Speedway where a loose race car and a late pit stop for a cut tire relegated them to a fourth place finish in the standings.
“I was very concerned (about losing Ratcliff),” Bell said Saturday at the Xfinity Awards banquet in Charlotte. “Whenever I got paired up with Jason it was a dream come true, right? Because I’m getting arguably one of the best crew chiefs in the Cup level to come down and do my Xfinity car.”
Ratcliff, who has been a NASCAR crew chief since 2000, was paired with Bell after five seasons and 14 wins Matt Kenseth in the Cup series.
“I knew that whenever things are getting shuffled around you never really know who’s safe and who’s not safe,” Bell said of JGR’s crew chief changes. “Obviously, Jason’s going to get opportunities. People are going to want him to crew chief their Cup cars, to go to different Xfinity teams. I just prayed that Jason was going to stay with me and stick with me. Very thankful that he did.”
Though Tyler Reddick managed to claim the series title, Bell is the obvious favorite for the championship next season.
Bell admitted “it’s going to be very hard to top ’18 in ’19.
“If I can go into ’19 and continue to win races and be in the (championship) four, I’m going to be happy with that.”
When it comes to getting ready for 2019, Bell is staying active behind the wheel.
“The only offseason prep I’m doing is just racing,” Bell said. “I’ve been pretty busy. Right after Homestead I went to Turkey Night out in California (where he beat Kyle Larson) and ran a midget. From there I went to St. Louis and ran a Midget. The only thing I know how to do is just race. I don’t think me losing the championship was a matter of not being prepared, I think it was just a matter of us missing it as a group.”
Bell’s offseason prep will continue Saturday with the Junior Knepper 55 in DuQuoin, Illinois. Bell is the defending winner of the USAC midget race, when he won with Keith Kunz/Curb Agajanian Motorsports. This year, Bell will race for Chad Boat and Tucker-Boat Motorsports.