CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 20 Rheem Fine Foods Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you talk about being on the pole again this weekend?
“Having a good starting spot is really, really, really important especially at a short track like Bristol with the PJ1 being down. It’s going to be very fast around the bottom, especially at the start of the race. We put ourselves in good position, I’m really proud of the Camrys that this 20 group have been able to bring to the races since we’ve started the Playoffs. They’ve been doing an amazing job, and I’m excited about another opportunity to start in the front and hopefully have a great race tomorrow.”
Is there a competition within Joe Gibbs Racing on who wins more poles this season, and is their importance within the team on single lap speed?
“Well, I can tell you that qualifying is not talked about at all amongst our competition meetings, so there is no competition on who is going to win the most poles. My team has put an emphasis on qualifying and making sure we establish our track position early in the race and get good pit stalls so we have been focusing pretty hard on qualifying, but I couldn’t even told you that Denny (Hamlin) and I were tied for poles. I can tell you that Denny has won more races than me this year, but not qualifying.”
Do you think the PJ1 will start coming into effect in the Cup Series race?
“The track right now is just completely normal from how it’s been in year’s past with them spraying the PJ1. The Trucks notoriously don’t ever get off the bottom, the Xfinity race notoriously don’t ever get off the bottom when they have that fresh spray down. I would expect the Cup race to start down there, and I would expect at some point we will get the top going and we will have different options. Once you do get options, it does become easier to pass because you are able to find cleaner air and get by guys. Certainly, it’s going to be a race where people are going to flip track position by staying out or taking different tire strategies, so you are going to have to be able to pass cars. I don’t think anyone knows how their car handles in traffic because practice is so short, you are just trying to find clean air and get your car balance good – by yourself – I think we are in as good of a spot as anyone.”
Was being in the first group a big advantage tonight?
“I feel confident saying it was less of an advantage at Bristol. Was it an advantage at all to be in group A, I don’t know. I do feel confident saying it was less of an advantage compared to Darlington, with the tire fall off that we have at Darlington and the lack of tire fall off that we have here.”
What does it mean for your teammate Martin Truex Jr. to join you in the top-five?
“Martin (Truex) – I kind of feel like Bristol owes him one. He’s fast here a lot and I don’t think he’s ever won. It would be a good day to have a good day if you are a Martin Truex fan tomorrow. Hopefully, we can get all three of these JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) Camrys into the next round. I know we have the speed to do it. 500 laps is an incredibly long race, and a lot is going to happen in between right now and whenever the checkered flag falls but Martin has put himself in a good spot, so hopefully he can make it happen.”
What have you seen out of Ty Gibbs’ team from your perspective?
“Ty (Gibbs) has had a heck of a rookie season. I knew that Bristol was going to be a track that he was going to perform well. He did the tire test here earlier in the year, and it’s just a track that fits his MO. They’ve been picking it up. I think it’s just a matter of time before he’s in victory lane. It’s cool to see whenever all of us are doing well, he’s able to hang with us. He’s doing a great job.”
Is it a challenge to give feedback when you are consistently starting on the pole?
“I think that comes from Adam (Stevens), my crew chief. He’s a great leader, and he knows what we had in qualifying is completely different than what we are going to have on lap 20, 30, 40 and on into the run tomorrow. After I leave this press conferences, I go right back to the hauler, and we don’t even talk about qualifying. We talk about race trim and what we had at the end of practice and what I needed to be better there. Adam has a really good system in place. It’s ironic – because we go out and practice, and you are focused on race trim, and as soon as that checkered flag falls, you don’t even talk about race trim – you are talking about qualifying trim, and as soon as qualifying is over, we are back at race trim. He does a great job leading me down the right path and leading out team.”
How significant is for all four Joe Gibbs Racing to start in the top-10 and is it personally significant for you?
“It’s cool to win a pole here at Bristol. I think it just goes to show how strong our Camrys are right now. Week-in and week-out, every time we come to the race track, we are right there. Great day for Joe Gibbs Racing. Glad that all four were able to make it to the final round, and hopefully we have a strong showing tomorrow.”
Do you have a sense for the new tire?
“I would say that it is going to be very similar to last year. Whenever you participate in the tire test, you are able to feel the difference when you go back-to-back with the different tire, but me coming here 365 days later – it feels very similar to what we had last year. It does appear that the fall off was a little bit more than practice last year, but typically when the top rubbers in that goes away a little bit. I would say the tire change has not been noticeable to me yet, hopefully, the tire problems go away. I know Goodyear was hoping to do with this tire change, but from my seat, I don’t notice a big difference.”
Are you sad to see the dirt race go away?
“Honestly, I was good either way. Concrete Bristol was my favorite race track on the schedule, two of these races is not a bad thing by any means. But – if it’s dirt – I’m okay with that too. It didn’t matter to me. I was fine either way.”