NASCAR Transcript: Christopher Bell – Press Conference – 02.15.24

THE MODERATOR: We’ve now been joined by the winner of the second Duel, Christopher Bell.

Congratulations on that win. Before we go to the questions, take us through the final laps from your seat in the car.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I was very, very nervous whenever the restart lined up. We had only, what, four cars maybe, four or five, then the rest of the field was lined up on the outside. I thought we were in trouble.

Yeah, the new Camry really showed its strength with myself, John Hunter and Denny on the bottom line being able to move our way back up forward compared to the Fords on the outside. That was rewarding to be able to have that pace and claw back to the front.

In the closing laps, I was with Denny, we had a good line going with myself and John Hunter and Denny all in a row. The Fords got a big run on the last lap. It was a matter of Stevie Reeves, my spotter, getting me up to pick up the push from the 21 car. Then I was able to gain the momentum and get alongside Denny.

It was very rewarding and refreshing to be able to make the right moves at the end of these races, because I’ve certainly made the wrong moves many of times.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll go to questions from the media.

Q. There were those that were saying doom and gloom about the Toyotas after how bad qualifying was. Were you surprised at the race pace at all, or was this internally what everybody expected?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, I certainly think that the Duels went better than expected. Going into this weekend or this week, we certainly expected to qualify a little bit worse than what we did last year, but definitely not the back of the pack like we did. That was very alarming.

After Wednesday we just didn’t know what to expect going into the Duels, the whole Toyota camp. Duel 1 we saw a lot of promise with all the cars, all the Toyotas having a lot of speed in that race. Tyler ended up winning the thing, which was really good. Then Duel 2, Bubba was really fast. All the Toyotas once again were really G.

I think it’s a good showing for the new Camry on the speedways. We certainly didn’t plan on qualifying well, but our hopes were that it would race well, and it certainly did.

Q. What areas of the new body do you feel has improved?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard telling what we’re going to have when we really get out of the speedway scenario. At the Clash it performed well. I don’t think really anything was a factor in the Clash because there is no aero. Obviously there’s no mechanical changes. It’s just a body on it, so…

One thing that we focused — not we, but they focused open, the Toyota group, going into this car was to make them push a little bit better so that whenever you did attach, it wouldn’t make the car getting pushed so squirrelly. I think they accomplished that. We were able to push very successfully. It seemed like the guys receiving the pushes were able to stay under control more than what they could with the previous version of the car.

Q. After the race Denny Hamlin, I asked him if he had any hesitation doing what seemed like a pretty aggressive defense of you there on the last lap. He remarked he probably wasn’t aggressive enough with that move. What were your thoughts on that?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I need to watch it back because obviously things happen so fast that I don’t exactly remember it.

The run that I had on him was pretty large. I think if he would have tried to block the top, I’m pretty sure I would have been able to get back to the inside of him.

I haven’t watched it back, so I don’t know. But I think either way I was going to be in pretty good shape.

Q. He also said he was a little bit surprised but understanding that you backed up to work with Harrison, a Ford, as opposed to staying up with him. Did you consider the teammate aspect as you were doing that move?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, I didn’t back up. I didn’t purposely lift off the accelerator or anything to harm the 11 car. I wanted to win. I wasn’t going to just contently push the 11 to the start/finish line, for sure.

Q. Is there a favorite to win on Sunday?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Hopefully myself (smiling).

Q. Is it yourself? Someone else? Toyota?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, I don’t know. It’s so hard to pick a favorite whenever you come to the superspeedway races. I think the only way to do that is look back at history. The history says that there are a couple key players that are at the front of these races.

For whatever reason, the 500 the last couple years, we’ve seen a lot of first-time winners and guys that don’t win a lot of the regular-season or Playoff races outside of the speedway stuff.

I think it’s probably too hard to pick a favorite. Certainly the Duels showed a lot of good promise for the Toyotas. It’s nice to have that speed going into these races because we haven’t been able to win a speedway race since the Next Gen car.

Q. I know your feelings overall on speedway racing, but what does it feel like to finally get a win?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Feels like I got lucky (smiling).

It is very rewarding definitely. Going into the season, one of the things that I told Adam was I wanted to win a speedway race. I guess this is half of a speedway race.

It’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully — I really do want to win a points-paying speedway race because I haven’t done it in my career, Truck, Xfinity or Cup. It’s literally half a race or quarter race compared to the full points-paying event.

Q. You and Tyler sat back in your races and made a last-lap pass late. Is there a different mindset going in where you want to sit back but don’t want to get caught in one of those wrecks?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, certainly being on offense whenever it comes to the last lap is a big advantage. It’s just the cards that you’re dealt. If you have the lead, you’re not going to purposely give up the lead to be in a different position at the end of the race.

Denny got dealt the leader and I got dealt the guy who is behind him on offense. Yeah, sometimes the leader wins if the guys behind him start racing, get side by side, then the leader is in the best spot.

Unfortunately for him, fortunately for me, I was able to be clear and pick up the run from behind and give me the momentum to shoot past him.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the win.