Christopher Bell looks to show his value at Joe Gibbs Racing


After running his rookie Cup Series season with now-defunct Leavine Family Racing, Christopher Bell has moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he’ll drive the No. 20 Toyota and team with Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin.

Bell has interacted with the latter trio on many occasions. Now, they’re side-by-side under the same banner, and he wants to prove himself as a valuable ally to them and JGR as a whole.

“I don’t want to be the one that’s taking all the time,” Bell said during a Thursday video teleconference. “I want to provide and help the group grow. That’s difficult, but I feel like the better I run, the more valuable my information gets.

“You look at races where I didn’t run good. People aren’t gonna look at my notes. They’re not gonna look at what I was fighting (with the car) or how my car was. But all of a sudden, Texas (in October) – I arguably had one of the fastest cars there … They’re gonna look at (my) car and see what set-up I ran, what my comments were, stuff like that.

“The better that I run, the more valuable my input will be and our notes as a group will be.”

Bell hopes to be well ahead of where he was for LFR in 2020.

While he said he wasn’t expecting to win a race, he did expect to be more competitive. The Oklahoman instead had a quiet year, finishing 20th in points with just two top-five results.

His best showing came in October at Texas, where he finished third behind Busch and Truex.

Bell felt that struggles on pit road “put us behind the eight-ball a lot.” But there was also the stronger competition at NASCAR’s top level to deal with.

His first lesson came in February at Las Vegas, where he expected to possibly compete for a top-10 finish.

Instead, he and his then quasi-teammates at JGR all had poor outings. Busch led the group with a 15th-place finish. A mid-race spin relegated Bell to 33rd.

“We go to Vegas, and I was running outside the top-20,” Bell recalled. “Then, all of a sudden, I look up in front of me, and Denny, Kyle, and Erik (Jones) were outside the top-15, a couple of cars in front of me.

“That was eye-opening. It’s pretty easy to be outside the top-15. For me, it was easy to be outside the top-20. I didn’t expect the depth that the Cup Series actually has.”

Running in the mid-pack for most of 2020 was another learning experience.

Bell said that the level of intensity in the Cup Series between front-runners and mid-pack drivers was relatively similar. The level of respect between them was another matter.

“I’ve noticed whenever you get up into the top-10, you’re racing different cars than what you are in the 15th to 25th range; if you catch someone and it’s not their day and they’re running eighth, they’re more likely to cut you a break and let you go,” Bell said.

“(But) if you’re running 18th and you’re trying to pass a guy for 17th, you don’t typically get those breaks.”

Mid-pack battles won’t do for Bell anymore.

His No. 20 team will feature two-time Cup champion crew chief Adam Stevens atop the pit box. Bell also said he’ll be supported by a new pit crew and core personnel from Stevens and Busch’s No. 18 group this past season.

It all adds up to high expectations. Bell is ready to show he’s worthy of them.

“I do think we need to win, and being at Joe Gibbs Racing, (Joe Gibbs’) expectations are to have four championship-caliber teams,” he said. “At some point, if we’re not a championship-caliber team, I don’t expect to be at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It’s definitely a high-pressure place to be, but that’s where I want to be and I’ve got to prove to everybody that I’m the driver to be in that car.”

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”