Christopher Bell‘s trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for this week’s Chili Bowl Nationals has a different feel compared to the last two years when he won the midget racing event.
“I have a lot of media obligations going into (the) week,” Bell said on the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Even last year or two years ago, I didn’t really have anything, I was just going for fun. Now I have a couple of autograph sessions and interviews and stuff like that where I actually have a PR person going next week which is a little bit different.”
That’s what happens when you combine the growing presence of NASCAR drivers in the event and Bell’s growing stature in NASCAR. The latter escalated last year as he won a rookie record seven Xfinity Series races and made it to the Championship 4.
Bell, fresh off a series of midget and sprint car races in New Zealand with Kyle Larson, will join more than 350 drivers competing in the six-night event that culminates with the championship race on Saturday. Bell is among 13 drivers with NASCAR or IndyCar connections – including Larson, Kasey Kahne and Alex Bowman – entered in the event.
Bell, a native of Norman, Oklahoma, first competed in the event in 2012 but has been attending it for roughly 20 years.
“I still get just as excited right now as I was 20 years ago, whenever I first went,” Bell said. “I guess the biggest change I’ve seen … is the NASCAR attendance and the NASCAR commitment to the sport or just being a part of it. … It’s cool because it’s helping the Chili Bowl get more to a national level.”
Bell said he expects Larson to be his biggest obstacle in getting a third straight Chili Bowl win.
“He’s the most talented guy probably any of us have probably seen,” Bell said. “I’d say he’s No. 1 on that list.”
Bell’s preliminary race takes place Thursday, two days after Larson’s.
Bell also discussed his unique animosity-free rivalry with Larson, which came to fruition in the Xfinity Series in 2018. In Larson’s six starts, Bell placed second to Larson twice and third another time.
“Me and Kyle were talking about this the other day … It’s kind of weird. It seems like if Kyle and I are in the same race together we seem to elevate each other,” Bell said. “Kyle has been my No. 1 supporter and it all started at Little Rock, Arkansas, at the Short Track Nationals back in, I think, 2012. … That was my first time I got on the national scene and Kyle was on Twitter saying this kid’s the next big thing. Basically since day one, Kyle has been trying to promote me and telling people I’m good and stuff like that.”
You can listen to the full podcast below.