THE MODERATOR: We've now been joined by our race-winning driver, Christopher Bell.
Congratulations on that win, walk-off win. Tell us a little bit about the final laps before we go to questions.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, really mind-blowing. Just the whole race went green flag. I thought we were just kind of buying our time, getting to the end of the race. I think I was running seventh or eighth. A couple guys were closing on me. Man, I hope I can get out of here with a top 10, focus on trying to race for fifth in the points.
Yeah, the tides changed.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Going into the next few races, the goal is to win, but how does that strategy change, or does it change, now that you're continuing as a contender?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I feel extremely good about what we have going on here in the next three races. Ever since the schedule laid out and we were looking at the Playoffs, the round of 16 all were really good racetracks for us, the Round of 8 were good racetracks for us. The round of 12 with Talladega and this racetrack in there, I was super concerned and nervous. I still felt like we were going to be able to make it through it because we're really good at Texas and we should be able to get through Texas with a good points day.
Whenever we left there with a whopping three points, I was just really down, down in the dumps, sad. Then we went to Talladega, and we needed a home run. We needed lot of points, and we didn't score a lot of points. This whole last two weeks, I had been extremely deflated, just kind of down in the dumps.
Now I can promise you I'm as excited as ever heading into these next three races.
Q. What does the transition feel like from being so down to... It's been well-documented that Toyotas have struggled on road courses. Did you allow yourself to think this could be an option?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Honestly, I did not. There's a gentleman sitting right over here, goes by Tony Merritt. He's kind of my DeWalt guy. We've built a heck of a relationship up.
He had been texting me through the weeks. He's like, Man, we're not out, we're going to win, we're going to win.
I didn't see it coming. Like, the road courses all year long, we had not been strong. Normally they're good for me. Last year with the Gen-6 car, got my first road course win, competed for several more wins. But this year just wasn't happening.
But with that being said, you see races all the time where the fastest car doesn't win. I did keep reminding myself that; that we're not expecting to be a dominant car or a race-winning car, but as long as you're there at the end of the race, as long as you hang out, put yourself in position, you never know what's going to happen.
It worked out we were the first car on tires and I was able to carve through them.
Q. Sounded like from what you said on TV that you thought your chances were actually better had the race stayed green. How come?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, just because restarts are so hectic and crazy here at the Roval. We see so many pileups getting into turn one. I knew I had a big advantage, regardless if it went green or there was a yellow and I was restarting on the front row. I knew that I had the advantage.
But I felt like there were a lot more obstacles outside of my control that could take me out of it once the yellow flag flew. But fortunately it was pretty calm. The front row was able to get away. I didn't have to worry about guys behind me putting me three-wide.
It ended up being smooth sailing. But I did not expect that to be the case. I thought we would be three- or four-wide getting into turn one.
Q. You woke up this morning knowing you want to win a race, but there had to be part of you that was just like the sun will still come up tomorrow and I'll still be racing. When you crossed that line and knew you won, that must have been pretty emotional.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It's crazy the amount of emotions that you go through. Really all race long I was just kind of, I don't know -- I think the best I was was fifth, the worst I was was 10th or 12th, which was right in line with how I expected the weekend to go.
There's another guy over there, his name is Chris Ball, and he tells me all the time that you just have to be there at the end of these races. We see it time and time again where the fastest car doesn't win.
Today we were not the fastest car, but we put ourselves in position. My crew chief made a great call to put tires on, and it worked out where we won the race.
We were there at the end.
Q. How much confidence have you gained this year kind of getting that first year under your belt with Gibbs, then moving into this one where you and Adam could really build something?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I think if last year we would have had practice and qualifying, we would have been able to perform just as well. Just really my first two Cup seasons, not being able to qualify and showcase our speed that we have week in and week out had really hurt my stats and my performance as a driver.
This year is the first year that I've had practice and qualifying, been able to showcase our speed and what we're capable of doing week in and week out.
I mean, with that being said, I think practice has helped, too, because it's helped Adam learn what I need in the car to be successful. So I think practice and qualifying goes hand-in-hand.
Q. Can you talk about your final restart, getting by Kevin, what that took.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, honestly it was fairly simple. Before the yellow came out that mixed everything up, I was really struggling. I had been out there for 30-something laps on tires. Everybody else had been out there 30-something laps on tires. It was super slick. Everyone was struggling.
Adam called me into the pits. I got stickers. I knew that everyone else that didn't have stickers, I knew what they were fighting. I knew I had a really big advantage. It was just going to be a matter if I could make it through the field clean and not get wrecked and not get run off course. It worked out.
But, yeah, I mean, once I got into second, I felt really good about my shot as long as I didn't screw it up myself. Yeah, I didn't want to see that last yellow and have to restart again because I was afraid that I was going to get taken out.
Q. You were that confident you could close the gap on Kevin at that point?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I really was. I knew how slick 30-lap tires felt like. I had just passed five or six cars, and they could not get off the corners, off of turn eight, both chicanes, they're really slipping and sliding around. I knew I had a really big tire advantage. I felt confident that I was going to get there.
But, yeah, I just didn't want to have to deal with a restart.
Q. Adam said situations like this, you enjoy them. You could tell you were driving the wheels off of it at the end. What were you thinking? Were you having fun?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, definitely the task was simple. We knew that we had to win. Just tried to put myself in good spots. Road course racing is so-so difficult because you can get stalled out and put in a bad spot and lose multiple positions.
I was trying to use what I learned throughout the beginning parts of the race where people put me in bad spots and I lost multiple positions, not let that happen to me.
Yeah, I mean, having a tire advantage that big, it's a big deal.
Q. You mentioned not wanting to get wrecked on the final restart. Did you look up in your mirror and realize AJ Allmendinger was right behind you?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: That was my biggest concern, yes. I absolutely did (laughter).
AJ, he's a great road racer. But he has taken advantage of me I can't count how many times this year. He's so aggressive in the braking zones.
At Indianapolis road course, I think I restarted on the front row or second row. He dove bombed me, put me three-wide. That ruined my chance at winning that race. Not saying I was going to win it if he didn't do it, but it took my chance away. It's happened several times with him behind me because he's very good at executing the braking zones.
Q. Going into this next round, Las Vegas, Homestead, then Martinsville would be the issue for you guys. How important is it to get a win in Las Vegas?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, for sure, I absolutely think we're capable of winning really all of 'em. Martinsville, while I don't expect us to perform as strong as I would at Vegas or Homestead, I still think the opportunity to win is there, and certainly much higher possibility to win at Martinsville than the Charlotte road course.
Yeah, I mean, we'll just have to go there and execute. The points are really tight, too. I don't know if it's going to take a win. I guess it's dependent on how everyone else performs. I certainly like our chances way more in the Round of 8 than I did the round of 12.
Q. The field of former Cup champions remaining has been whittled down further after today. Seems like a different group. A month from now you could be a Cup champion. What does that mean?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, we're still alive. That feels really good. I wouldn't have guessed that a week ago or even five hours ago.
I mean, I like our chances. All the rest of the races play out really good for us. We just have to execute and dot our Is and cross our Ts, see where the cards fall.
It feels good. Feels really good.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, from the first 10 races into the season, I knew that our performance and capability was there. Like you said, we had a lot of things working against us. Whenever we left I want to say Atlanta, I don't remember what race Atlanta was in the season, but three or four races in we were positioned last in the points standings.
I think a lot of people had written me off as a driver, written the 20 car off, Christopher is going to get fired. I got that all the time, that I'm getting replaced. The 20 car is the revolving door, he's going to be out of here.
Maybe I'll get to stick around a little bit longer now (smiling).
With that being said, I don't think we're done. A two-win season is not our end goal. I think that we're certainly capable of more. I want to be a household name in the Cup Series. Hopefully this is just the start.
Q. Kyle Busch referred to your crew chief as the best in the garage. Going into this more narrow list of drivers, what does it mean to you to have Adam?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, we'll know more after next week. It seems like that first race really sets the tone for how the points lay out and stuff like that.
As far as Adam Stevens, he's definitely one of the best in the business. A race car driver is only as good as the car underneath of him. Time and time again Adam gives me the opportunity to showcase my talents. Just grateful to have him as a crew chief.
I can't stress that enough, that a driver is only as good as the race car that he's given. Adam is the guy who is giving me great cars.
Q. I noticed some bling on your finger. Is that the most unique trophy, side trophy?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It's ironic that you ask this question. I actually got a ring for winning the World Championship race in New Zealand in a midget car. I got that. I'm pretty sure I got a USAC championship ring and the Truck championship ring. I got a couple of them now. I guess I can wear them to the banquet (laughter).
Q. You and Briscoe have raced Larson probably more than anybody else in the field. Are you surprised he's on the outside looking in after winning the championship last year?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, after the way this year has laid out, no, I'm not surprised just because who would have thought Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch would be two of the guys out in the round of 16. Then Truex not making the Playoffs is mind-blowing, too. It's been a really, really odd year.
Yeah, it's been an odd year, and definitely the eight that are remaining are probably not the eight top cars in the garage, but it's who's left standing.
THE MODERATOR: Christopher, congrats again on the win.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Thank you.