First 15 Cup races have been ‘eye-opening’ for Christopher Bell


Believe it or not, Christopher Bell has not come to dread Thursdays.

That’s when NASCAR announces the starting lineup, based on a random draw, for Cup races.

Due to his position in the owner points (which the draw is based on), the rookie driver has started 32nd or worse in five of the last seven races. That rough patch continues Sunday in the Brickyard 400 (4 p.m. ET on NBC), when Bell and his No. 95 Toyota start 35th.

“Honestly, I haven’t even been paying attention to it,” Bell said Friday in a Zoom press conference. “I go to the racetrack and then just listen to see what the damage is when my team tells me. But it’s the name of the game and we buried ourselves there that first four weeks and really, really killed our points.”

For Bell, the first four races of his Cup career were a “disaster,” as he had two DNFs and failed to finish better than 21st.

After NASCAR’s COVID-19 shutdown, that bad start continued at Darlington, where he placed 24th. But his slow rebound began in the second Darlington race with an 11th-place finish. He followed that with his first top 10 in the Coca-Cola 600.

Since the sport’s return, Bell has five finishes of 11th or better, including his first career top five in the first race of the Pocono doubleheader last weekend. His only DNF since May 17 was for a crash in the second Pocono race.

But it hasn’t been enough to dig himself out of the cellar of the owner point standings and achieve his “No. 1 goal” of getting to the 24th spot. The way the random draws are done, being 24th in owner points would allow Bell to start anywhere between 13th and 24th.

“It’s crazy … I ran fourth for Pocono 1 and then I looked at the points and I didn’t make any headway at all because I’m pretty sure (Michael) McDowell ran eighth and the guys that I’m racing in points, it seems like whenever I have a good day, they have a good day too,” Bell said.

Through 15 races, Bell is 26th in owner points. He trails McDowell by three points and fellow rookie John Hunter Nemechek, who is 24th, by 17 points.

“So it’s been very frustrating, we’re just gonna keep plugging on and thankfully, these races are 400-500 mile races and not sprint races,” Bell said.

For Bell, the strategy involved in Cup races compared to shorter Xfinity races is what’s surprised him the most about his rookie season with Leavine Family Racing. The biggest difference: pit stops.

“It just seems like the races are way more dynamic in the Cup Series, you know that the strategy is all over the board,” Bell said. “Even if you go to a place like Atlanta or Homestead where you put four tires on every time you pit, there might be 10 pit stops in one race. Compared to the Xfinity Series, there’s guaranteed only going to be three, maybe four. So that’s been very eye-opening just how many times you come down pit road, how many times you pit. But as far as competition standpoint, I knew what I was getting into in the Cup Series. The Xfinity side you have that eight-ish number of competitive cars and that number gets turned into 25 on the Cup side.”

Going into his 16th Cup start and his first Brickyard 400, you can count Bell among the drivers who have actually preferred not having practice and qualifying, even if it means he’s starting deep in the field.

“For me, I feel like it fits what I’ve grown up doing,” Bell said. “And if you look at our performance, we’ve ran exceptionally better since we stopped practicing for whatever reason that is. But I really enjoy it and as a rookie, going to the racetrack … I’m not starting on the pole or the front row so I’m not having to go wide open into Turn 1 and expect the car to stick or anything you know. I have enough time starting in the back that we’re able to just creep up on it and I feel like I’ve done a good job of not overstepping my limits and making sure that I get to that first pit stop where we can tune the car to my liking and stuff like that.”

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.