Christopher Bell put up solid numbers last year in his first full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Despite finishing third in the 2016 championship standings, Bell felt that his season was lackluster and aimed to run up front and win more races in 2017.
The Oklahoma native has done just that and if you ask him about the strides he has taken, he'll tell you that a lot of the credit goes to his crew chief, Ryan "Rudy" Fugle. Fugle is in his fourth season as a crew chief at Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) and sixth overall with the organization. The New York native has guided his team to an Owner's championship in all three of his seasons (2013, 2015 and 2016) atop the pit box at KBM, including a combined Owner's/Driver's Championship with Erik Jones in 2015.
Entering Friday night's Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway, Fugle's drivers have combined for 21 wins, 13 poles, 2,920 laps led, 47 top-five and 70 top-10 finishes across his 89 races calling the shots at KBM. He led Jones to three wins en route to the Driver's championship in 2015 and last season guided William Byron to a NCWTS rookie-record seven wins. Last year at Phoenix, Byron was an engine failure away from delivering back-to-back Driver's championships for Fugle, but was still able to earn KBM its fourth consecutive and fifth overall Owner's championship when he rebounded from the heartbreak to win the series finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.
With Byron graduating to a full-time XFINITY Series ride this season, Fugle was paired with Bell and the duo has the No. 4 Toyota team in contention for another combined championship. In addition to pacing the standings for the last 10 races, the 22-year-old driver leads the Truck Series in nearly every major statistical category this season, including wins (five), poles (four), top-five finishes (14), top-10 finishes (19), driver rating (117.9), average finish (5.8), average running position (6.1), laps led (775) and fastest laps run (368).
Bell stands 55 points above the cutoff line for earning one of the three remaining spots for the championship race and if he can earn just six points in Friday night's 150-lap event, will advance to Homestead-Miami. He finished seventh in his debut at the one-mile track last season. Fugle's statistics as a crew chief at Phoenix are rather impressive. In his three races calling the shots in the "Valley of the Sun," his drivers have led 67.1 percent (302) of the 576 total laps. In 2013, Jones became the youngest winner in Truck Series history at the time, when he led a race-high 84 laps en route to victory as a 17-year-old. Last season the 19-year-old Byron led a race-high 112 laps and was out front with 12 laps remaining when his engine expired.
Both Jones and Byron earned promotions to the NASCAR Xfinity Series after learning from Fugle and it already has been announced that Bell will follow in their footsteps. Before he moves on to a full-time gig with Joe Gibbs Racing next season, the talented wheelman hopes to be the next of Rudy's tutees to hang a championship banner from the rafters at KBM.