Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell was made available to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday.

CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 20 DEWALT Toyota Camry XSE, Joe Gibbs Racing

Would you like to see COTA continue on the schedule going forward?
“I think that COTA is a world-class facility and a world-class race track. If we road courses on the schedule, it is probably a good one to go to. I’m okay with it. I’m okay with us getting the road course schedule back down, which we have slowly, but surely been doing, but I think that COTA is a good one to go.”

Where would you want a dirt race to be on the schedule?

“I think that there are a lot of different dirt venues out there, but Eldora is the one that really comes to mind, and I’m sure everyone will say the same thing. I don’t think we should go down the path of having one dirt race a year – and I’m just talking about getting rid of some road course races – but we don’t need to have one road course race either. Whenever you have that single event, it becomes easy to overlook and then people don’t take it seriously. We saw that in road course racing early on in the sport, where if you weren’t a good road course racer, you would just kind of put it behind you and it was easy to put it behind you, and on to the next one. The dirt race was very much that same way. For all of the teams that didn’t have a dirt driver, it was just kind of an off week for them, a throw away event. Certainly, the guys that had dirt drivers took it seriously, but I think if you want to go down that route you need to add two to three of them to make it a priority in the schedule, so that you have to actually have to work on it to become better and it becomes more of a real race.”

Do you think some of the things have worked for you in the night race at Bristol could work for you in the day race?

“I would say so and I would say that is a fair comment about saying how concrete tracks are not as sensitive to ambient conditions. It’s certainly been a while since we’ve had a daytime race at Bristol and I think it will probably be a little bit different, but no one knows how different it will be with the Next Gen car. Our team, at least, just found out that the treatment at the bottom is a little bit different last year, so yeah, it is going to be a little bit different than we’ve had the last couple of years in Spring Bristol for sure. I can promise you that. (laughter).”

How does winning early help you focus on getting Playoff points to set you up strong for the Playoffs?

“That has been our focus ever since that ’21 season, where we won early and then we never got any more Playoff points after that, but then ’22 and ’23, we’re kind of the same. We just have not been able to execute on multiple race wins and multiple stage wins. That has been a focus the last several years, of us trying to be the team going into the Playoffs that has the points buffer, because certainly when you get into the round of 12, round of 8, I had to win basically if I was going to make the final 4. I don’t know other than to say it is the same mentality that we’ve had, just we had to do a better job of executing it. Getting Playoff points is hard. The only way to get Playoff points is to win races, win stages – and being up in the final regular season standings. We need to win more. I need to win more, and good news is we want to win more, so that is what it is all about.”

With the road courses coming up, does it allow you to be on the opposite strategies to get those Playoff points?

“With the yellow flags being back in place, it definitely opens that back up on the road courses. You are really going to figure out where you stack up on Saturday, where you practice and qualifying, and then where the race falls, if you feel like you have a car capable of winning the race, then you are probably going to jump the stages and you are not going to get the stage points, but say that you are a guy that doesn’t have the pace to win the race, if the Playoff point is given to you by everyone short pitting the stages and racing for the win, then it is definitely something that we would consider. I believe that we did that at Indy road course, a couple of years ago, where we knew that we didn’t have the pace to win the race, so everyone short pitted the stages and we took the points. That’s one of the few rare occasions that it happens, maybe Pocono, or something like that. Certainly, at the road courses, we hope to have the pace to win, but if not, it does open that possibility to take the stage points and the Playoff point.”

After all the success you had at Phoenix, are you excited to get to Richmond with the same short track package?

“I think that Richmond will be a good track for us. Statistically, it is probably one of my best Cup tracks too, but obviously haven’t reached victory lane there. It’s a unique place, because in the Xfinity Series, the strategy is pretty self-explanatory. You are going to run to the stage break, you are going to put tires on, and do the same thing all race, but the Cup race, you have to make a green flag stop, and the tire fall off is so big that you might have to make two green flag stops in one stage. There is a lot that goes into it, and in order to win at Richmond, you have to have the whole package. You have to have your entire team clicking. It is not a place where a driver can make up for a bad car or a bad pit crew or anything like that. Richmond is a team race track. You have to have great pit stops, you have to have a good driver and obviously a good car. We have been close. I think I’ve been a top-10 car there the majority of the time but haven’t sealed the deal yet. Maybe this year is the year.”

How much of an adjustment is it from coming to a bigger track to Bristol?

“There is an adjustment period for sure. That is a little unique to Bristol because even at Martinsville, it’s a half-mile in length, the speed is slower than here, so the acclamation time isn’t as big, but definitely that first run of practice, I think all of us are going to be holding our breath and the crew chief is going to be asking what we need on the car, and we are going to be like hang on, I’m trying to breathe in here. The acclamation period at Bristol is probably the biggest of the schedule, and the runs at Bristol – while the lap times are short – the lap count is really, really high. A 90-lap run at Phoenix is probably a little bit easier on us than 125-lap run, which we have to do stage one of the race on Sunday. The lap count being high here makes it a little bit tougher.”

How do you think the Netflix show raised your and NASCAR’s visibility? Is it important for NASCAR to have a superstar that people outside of the sport would know?

“I think that is the name of the game for the whole Netflix deal was trying to get more eyes, more casual fans, engaged with our sport and try to understand the process of what a NASCAR race is. It is not just cars turning left. I can promise you that. Getting superstars is what getting fans to watch. It all goes hand in hand, so hopefully that was step one of getting us more exposure and getting this sport back to where it was.”

How important is it for you to show your personality to NASCAR fans and the general public?

“It has been something that I haven’t been very good at – showing my personality, showing who I am, to the general public, so whenever I got the opportunity to be on the Netflix show, I tried to open up as much as I could. I just hope that we are able to keep it going, keep the momentum going. I know that the ratings have been really good this year, and there has been a lot of positivity going into 2024, so hopefully we can keep the ball rolling.”

You won the dirt race here last year. Do you feel like the defending race winner?

“I don’t feel like the defending race winner. It feels like we are at a different venue right now, compared to what it was 12 months ago. It is cool that I won the last dirt race. I take pride in that because I’m a dirt track racer. That’s what I grew up doing, but it definitely,  definitely feels like a new venue. When you came here for the dirt race, it didn’t feel like you were at Bristol.”

Have you felt underappreciated by the NASCAR fans? If so, does that motivate you?

“I would say that it motivates me a little bit. I want to be clear, that inside my team and the competition industry, I feel like people know where the 20 car is at. Just the outer regions don’t or haven’t. Frankly, I’ve got to win. I’m not a talker. I’m not a shower. I hope to be a winner, and I know for people to talk about me, I have to win. Winning seven races is not there. I want to win, and I want to make you guys have to talk about me because of the on-track product.”

How will the restart zone and the portions that have been repaved change racing next weekend in COTA?

“I have. I actually did a little bit of simulator work last week and there is a lot of patches. They added some last year, and they did more this year, so that is definitely, I would think, affect the strategy a little bit as far as tire management, when you are going to put tires on, stuff like that, and then the restart zone. While I don’t think it is going to be a home run, I think it will be in the right direction of trying to get us spread out, so that we don’t look like a bunch of buffoons running into each other getting into turn one, so I think the road course stuff is going to be a work in process as far as getting the cars where we don’t run into each other going into those 90 degree corners. Another learning experience for us.”

What makes a superstar to you?

“I think I’m probably the wrong person to ask that question. I have a hard time of understanding who a superstar is in general. I would say in my eyes the superstars in the sport are Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, probably (Joey) Logano and (Brad) Keselowski – the guys that have won the most races out of the group. It’s becoming harder and harder to do that. The days of the big three – (Martin) Truex, (Kevin) Harvick and Kyle Busch – are a long way away now. I don’t know if we will ever get back there. There’s positives and negatives. We’ve gotten away from those key guys winning races, but now we have more parity in our sport and you never know who is going to win going into a Sunday. It could be one of 15-20 cars. I guess in my eyes, the superstars are the winners and the guys have ton the most, just like Kyle and Denny.”

Toyota Racing PR