NASCAR Transcript: Christopher Bell – Media Center

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the race winner, Christopher Bell, for Joe Gibbs Racing.

We’ll open up the floor for questions.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Christopher Bell, NASCAR driver. Bob, did you pick me today?

Q. No, I didn’t.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Bob’s picks are notoriously the worst. If he picks me, I don’t win.

Q. I picked you last week.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, and I sucked (laughter).

Q. That was all you last week.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I’ll own it. You picked me, so you jinxed me.

Q. My question is, you had that deal last week, flat tire, bad week. The last time you were here you blew a brake rotor. Did you come in here an angry man and did that matter?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I came in here a sad man, Bob (smiling).

No, I was not angry. I was just sad. Yeah, I don’t know. I suck at, like, trying to stay upbeat after a run of bad races. Atlanta was furthest from my fault, but it’s still a 30-whatever-fourth place finish. We had a 33rd-place finish last week.

I was pretty sad. I try not to let that affect my driving.

We showed up on Friday and had a bunch of pace, had a really good practice, so I was feeling a lot better about it after Friday.

Q. Were you sad after a pit stop dropped you to 10th? During the pit stop cycles, you’re around 20th.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I went to mad. I was mad there (smiling).

I knew that mistakes happen. I spun out last week. I was nervous about getting up through there because passing, it was extremely difficult. My car was not very good whenever I was back in traffic. On the restarts I struggled to move forward. It took me a couple laps for the field to get strung out before I could start making passes. That was disheartening.

Then whenever they flipped the — the yellow came out and flipped the strategy and buried us, I don’t know, I was probably less mad at that point than I was whenever we lost the lead from the pit stop. At that point it was just like, Okay, if you get to 15th, 10th, whatever it’s going to be.

I think I got to the first car on four tires, then it started looking a little bit more positive. I wasn’t thinking ‘win’ at all until I got to third, behind the 54. I knew the 19 didn’t have enough gas to finish, and the 54 was on right-side tires. I knew I was in pretty good shape at that point.

Q. Obviously you come out here for the test. You leave feeling optimistic. Toyota in general… At what point were you, yes, this is exactly what we thought and we have fast cars?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, I’m sure Adam knew that before I did because he’s seeing the lap times of how we stack up against everyone else.

Inside the car, I thought that it drove pretty well. Sometimes it drives really well and you’re slow. I was out there making laps. After practice Friday night, whenever you go back and look at the lap times, that’s when it starts to sink in that we’re going to have a shot at it.

Saturday qualifying. Oh, my gosh, I don’t know what it is about qualifying at this racetrack, but it has my number. I think out of the five qualifying sessions that we’ve had, I’ve only made the final round once. That’s a huge deal.

Coming back in November, we’ve got to make the final round of qualifying and see where we stack up. Saturday was disheartening, and we’ll definitely be focusing on that for November.

Q. First full weekend with the new short track package. Your thoughts on it?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: It was different. I don’t think that it was any better in traffic. It drove different. The car handled significantly different. I’m sure that the racing probably didn’t look much better, but it was different inside the car.

Q. When we talked yesterday, you said you didn’t have a comment on the tires. I wanted to see your feedback today.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, the package that we had really liked the new tires, so it was good for me and bad for other people. I’m going to say that it was great and other people are going to say that it wasn’t very good.

Yeah, I mean, the racing probably in my eyes wasn’t much different than what we’ve had in the past.

Q. This is a very important track if you ever want to win a championship. After failing to finish last time here, racing out here two times, how important is it to you to prove that you’ve had success here? Anything you learned today that will help you out next time?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I think we learned a lot. So did everyone else, though. It seemed like the Toyotas had the advantage this week. I’m sure that everybody else is going to go back to the drawing board and be a lot more competitive whenever we come back.

While it makes me feel optimistic about where we’re at for the championship race, there’s still a lot of racing and a lot of development that’s going to go on between now and then. I don’t think you can look too much into what happens today for November.

Yeah, I mean, it was a great day to be in a Toyota.

Q. You talked about the emphasis of making the final round of qualifying in November. You’ve had great long run speed. Is it worth sacrificing some of that? Do you think it would sacrifice any of that long run speed?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, I have to be better on restarts. Even today I was terrible on restarts and never moved forward until the field started stringing out.

Today it worked out because the race stayed green and we got a long green-flag run in, and that played to my strength. If the yellow flag comes out with 15 to go, 10 to go, the guy who restarts the best is going to win.

That’s equally as important, arguably more important depending on how the yellow flags fall. We know I have to get better at that for November.

Q. I’m curious, at the end the Fords came out of nowhere. You checked out to a five-second lead. What was it like racing them or were you surprised to see them up there?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: No, I don’t think I was surprised. Buescher and Keselowski were really good at the previous race, I’m pretty sure. I know Buescher was fast at the test. I knew they were going to be competitive.

I don’t know what the tire strategy was behind me, but I do know that Ty was on two tires. That’s a really big disadvantage compared to at least myself. I don’t know if Buescher was on four or not. Ty was definitely not in the best spot.

Q. How do you feel your test here in December helped your win today?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, the test in December, honestly it’s tough because we came here for two days and we tried it feels like 18 different rules packages. Right before we put this package on the car, my engine blew up. We came here for two days and I didn’t even get to run the current rules package. I had no idea and my team had no notes on it.

Regardless, we showed a lot of pace no matter what the package was in December, so we left here optimistic. It still paid dividends this weekend because we were really fast right off the truck.

Q. New short track package, new tires, Toyota body. How much of the new package can you credit to today’s win?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: That’s a good question. I don’t know. It drove a lot different. I know I’ve already said that. I guess less diffuser and more spoiler on the car made the car slide around a little bit. You could definitely drive it looser and more sideways than you could in the previous races.

Yeah, I mean, I think it definitely shook up the field. Whenever we come back in November, everyone is going to have a lot more development on these tires, on this aero package. I would expect November to be a much different race. Hopefully the same winner, but I would expect it to be a much different race.

Q. After you were 20th on the restart, a key moment was getting by the 45.


Q. Can you take me back, how you were able to do that? Very key move because he got stuck in the mess after that.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, honestly, I don’t even know how I passed him. The restarts are just so crazy here, you’re three-wide, four-wide. I have no idea. You don’t even really see cars or car numbers at that point. You’re just trying to go find clean air and run a lane that they’re not in.

Yeah, I broke through. I knew that the 45 was on four tires and he was clearly one of the best cars today. Whenever I got by him, I still didn’t think I was going to win, but I knew I was in a good spot being the first car on my strategy.

Q. For as much as you talked about how tight the car was in the first stage, you make the adjustments, then the second stage Adam thinks you’re in good shape. He almost said, Don’t worry about the first two cars.


Q. You ended up racing everybody back and winning that stage. When did you feel like that car was, There’s something here, this is not like earlier, maybe I can get the stage win?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, probably, I don’t know, 10, 20 laps into the second stage. It wasn’t immediate. Like, whenever we restarted stage two, I didn’t get a good restart and I was still struggling a little bit. Once we got some separation and I was able to move around and get clean air on my car, or cleaner air, it drove better and I was able to make passes.

I didn’t know that I was capable of winning the race until late in stage two, really whenever I got to third. I could see myself closing. It wasn’t until late in the second stage that I knew I had a car capable of winning.

Q. What does this mean for this team? You’ve been to the Championship 4 the last two years. So much can change between now and then. To be fast all weekend, to overcome obstacles, what does this do for this team?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I just hope that this gives a little bit more insight to the world the capability that the 20 team has. I feel like the last two years through the Next Gen era, myself and everyone inside of our team have seen glimpses of the potential, but haven’t really been able to live it to fruition yet.

I mean, I say this a lot, and the rest is up to us to make it happen, but I feel like this is just the beginning. Making the Final 4 and winning one or two races a year, that’s not our final goal. We don’t want to be a one- or two-win team a year. We want to be the championship contender year after year, multiple race wins year after year.

Q. Four races, four different winners. In your opinion, do you think we get 16, 17 winners? Do you feel like you need to have another win to feel secure for a Playoff spot this year?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, technically we’re race two of the real races. I don’t even know who won Daytona.

Q. William Byron.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Okay, Byron won Daytona.

Yeah, I mean, I think everyone in the industry knew going into the season, having Daytona and Atlanta back to back with the reconfiguration at Atlanta, there were going to be possibly two different unexpected winners. Byron is definitely not an unexpected winner. We’re two races in, and I think we’re seeing a trend of who’s going to be up front.

Yeah, I don’t think that we’ll get there this year. I think you’ll see the normal contenders start being up front more often.

Q. You said you felt like the race was going to be different in November. How so?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Just because everyone is going to have so much more development time on this aero package. We showed up, and the Hendrick cars clearly missed it this week, right? They’re not going to miss it November whenever a championship is on the line and they’ve had however many races to get their setup dialed in.

Clearly the JGR cars and the Toyota group hit on the setup the best. We saw that in 2022 whenever Next Gen was first introduced, the Fords smoked everybody this race. It just takes time with these changes to optimize it.

We’re on the winning side of it this time. But the field is going to be tighter and I would expect the favorites are going to be up front whenever we come back in November.

Q. You said in stage two when you started to stretch out, you could get some clean air, you could maneuver. Did that give you the confidence that you could do it again when had you to do it again?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: No, it did not.

Q. Was it fun?

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Is it fun? Yeah, I mean, driving race cars is fun. It’s not very fun in the moment. Like, sitting here right now looking back at it, yeah, it’s a lot of fun passing cars and driving through the field.

I just drove through the field once. When I got put back, I didn’t think there was any way I could do it again. As the race progresses, it gets harder and harder to pass. Everyone is working on their cars, their balance is getting closer, so it becomes harder to pass later in the race. I didn’t think there was going to be any way I was going to make it up there twice.

Q. But you did and you blew their doors off.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: I drove a rocket ship today, that’s for sure. It’s a credit to my car, not me.

THE MODERATOR: Christopher, congratulations on the win. Good luck next week.

CHRISTOPHER BELL: Thank you, guys. Don’t pick me next week, Bob (laughter).