Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Christopher Bell will take on three of the series' stalwarts Friday night in the Championship 4 of the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway. The 21-year-old's three opponents in Friday night's 134-lap event boast an average age of 38 and have combined for a total of 809 starts in NASCAR's third division, including 33 at Homestead. Bell will be getting behind the wheel of his JBL Tundra for just the 30th time overall and the second time for a race at the 1.5-mile venue.
Bell's rookie campaign got off to a bumpy start as he posted an average finish of 20.3 across the first three races of 2016, despite being in a position to win in the closing laps of two of those events. From that point forward, the Oklahoma native has made a concentrated effort on not taking himself out of contention before the completion of the race and the results have showed as he's recorded an average finish of 7.8 over the last 19 events and had just three results outside of the top 10.
The talented youngster earned his spot in the inaugural Truck Series Chase after leading 38 of the final 42 laps in the ninth race of the season at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. Once the Chase got underway, Bell was able to advance into the Championship 4 by running consistently inside the top 10. In the Round of 8, he recorded an average finish of 4.5 and followed it up in the Round of 6 with an average finish of 7.3. Overall since the playoffs have started, the Oklahoma native ranks second to Johnny Sauter with a driver rating of 103.7 and average running position of 7.4.
Now the No. 4 JBL Racing team heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway, a track where Bell has only made one start, but where crew chief Jerry Baxter has been very successful. As part of his seven-race schedule last season, the open-wheel dirt standout led five laps and was running inside the top 10 until a gamble on fuel late in the race left him with a 25th-place finish. Baxter has called the shots for four Truck Series races at the 1.5-mile venue in South Florida and ended up in victory lane twice. In 2012, he was victorious when Cale Gale narrowly beat KBM owner-driver Kyle Busch to the stripe in a green-white-checkered finish. He won again in 2014 when Darrell Wallace Jr., led 30 laps and outdueled Kyle Larson in the closing laps.
KBM prepared for the possibility of having at least one of their rookie drivers in the Championship 4 using one of their rookie tests at Homestead-Miami Speedway in August. Bell was able to make over 100 laps around the progressively-banked track in preparation for Friday night's Truck Series finale. Although rain washed away a good portion of the track time they had planned on, including both night sessions, the No. 4 team was able to use the time to narrow in on the setup that they will unload with when practice starts on Friday.
Bell, Baxter and the No. 4 JBL Racing team have put in countless hours this season in an effort to be ready for Friday night's one-race showdown. The ultra-talented youngster will have to be at the top of his game if he hopes to outduel three cagey veterans, but he is hoping when the checkered flag waves on the 2016 season that youth will prevail in the inaugural Truck Series Chase and he'll have delivered KBM its second-consecutive driver's title.