THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Christopher Bell.
We’ll go ahead and open it up to questions.
Q. To get this win here today, what does it say about the resiliency of you, this 20 team?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It says a lot, that’s for sure. Wow, I mean, today was just a whirlwind, for sure. To be able to overcome and to be in that bad of a spot… I mean, I was what, a quarter straightaway from going a lap down. It was just incredible the difference a couple pit stop adjustments will do to your car.
I’ve always been one that says that the car is everything. The driver’s job is to maximize the car. If the car is fast, you do good. If the car is slow, you do bad. I think today was the epitome of that.
We were really struggling. I was the slowest car on the track at one point in the race. A couple good adjustments later, we became one of the fastest ones.
Q. 22nd after stage two. Frustrations are high. Are you thinking at that point… What are you thinking at that point? You’re not thinking win?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: No. Heck, no. I mean, I can’t even say I was thinking of a win at any point in the day except maybe the last 10 laps.
But it was just insane the difference that the car was. So even from stage one to stage two, it’s no secret that this is not my favorite racetrack in the world. I’ve had my fair share of struggles here. But stage one, we took off, and I was able to advance and move forward. I started in the teens and I was able to drive into the top 10 to get stage points. There were a couple other guys coming back to me. Okay, I feel really good. I felt like we were a small adjustment away from being really competitive.
Then, geez, it just completely fell apart in the second stage. I took off and the balance was not good at all. The long run was terrible. I completely died on the long run, almost went a lap down. I’m sure everybody on the 20 team was extremely frustrated, were ready to throw the towel in.
A couple good adjustments and a big, big break with the yellow flag, for sure. If that yellow flag doesn’t happen, I certainly don’t win, and I probably don’t even sniff the top 10. We did catch a huge break in the third stage.
Q. When your crew chief tries to elicit a response like that from you on the radio, what are you thinking internally?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: That was me boiling over with frustration. I try not to do that. I try to keep my temper as controlled as I could.
But in that moment, I did smart off to him. I apologized to Adam for that. His old drivers probably gave him a lot worse, so I shouldn’t feel too bad (smiling).
Q. What is it about you in these situations where you’re able to thrive?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, I mean, I don’t think that it means anything for me. I certainly thrive on pressure and I love it. I live for those type of moments. That’s why last week hurt so bad because I live for those moments. Whenever you have an opportunity to be great…
It didn’t work last week, and that really, really hurt me. I think it’s more so a credit to the team. To come into the Charlotte road course, I’ve said this a million times, in a must-win situation, whenever we sucked on road courses all year, to have the car capability we had, same thing at Martinsville, now the Round of 8 basically every race is a must win with our points situation.
Vegas was amazing. Certainly had a car capable of winning. Then a huge, huge turn of events from stage two to stage three this week to get our car to where I could maintain my track position and win the race.
Q. Do you consider yourself this clutch guy? Do you look forward to having that opportunity to bring it on like that? Are you like that generally speaking in life? Have you been like that?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, I don’t want to be put in those positions. It’s not like I sit here and try to be put in a pinch.
It was very nice in the Round of 12 this year to have a good Texas and just be able to survive, right? Once I got that good finish at Texas, Talladega was, Okay, collect our points. Charlotte, same thing: collect our points. Certainly is a lot easier, but they’re not always like that.
We’ve been really blessed and fortunate to be able to execute in these positions. I’m just proud of the effort from everybody around me because I’m just a small piece of what the success is.
Q. Do you start to welcome it now that you’ve proven you can excel in those situations?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: No. I would rather be the regular-season champion and be able to cruise in on points. In Phoenix, I would rather have a five-second lead and just cruise. I don’t want have to be put in those positions.
But I do live for those moments. I love being great or trying to be great, I should say. Yeah, I love it.
Q. We have a legend retiring this season in Kevin Harvick, nickname of The Closer. Do you feel like you’re carrying on that legacy in your own way?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don’t know. I mean, Harvick is obviously one of the greatest to ever do it. I’m a far stretch from that.
I am proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish I guess is the right way to say it. But I don’t think that anybody will be The Closer. That’s Kevin’s motto, that’s what he did. Hopefully I’m Christopher Bell.
Q. You’re now returning to the round where you were last year where unfortunately you fell short. How do you change the approach to the second Championship 4 as opposed to this first one? What did you learn from that that could help you at Phoenix?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, you’re always more prepared whenever you get into situations for the second time. I feel like we’re going to be better than what we were last year. That was a bad race for us. We were in the Final 4 but we did not have the pace that we needed to compete for that event.
Then Phoenix one this year, we improved dramatically on it. I would say Phoenix one this year was our best race in the Next Gen era. I have way more confidence going into Phoenix this year than I did last year. Yeah, it’s one race and we just have to go out there and execute.
Q. I’m curious about you being able to get these clutch wins. Last it wasn’t magical because it was clearly talent, but what is it about you that you can step up when it’s necessary?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, I don’t think that it’s anything. There is no magic in it. Fortunately or unfortunately I’ve been put in a lot of these positions growing up. I think it’s just a credit to me driving professionally for as long as I have.
You improve on things every time you get into that position. My first walk-off win was Charlotte road course. That was certainly not the first high-pressure event that I’d been in in my career. You learn from it and you get better every time. I just credit it to my racing background and being a professional racer long before I entered into the NASCAR series.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, he’s proven that he has the same mentality, the same will, the same capability. I’m very fortunate to drive for him. He’s a two-time champion for a reason. He’s had plenty of his moments where he didn’t fold under the pressure.
Q. You said you felt like Phoenix in the spring was the best race in the Next Gen era. Is that the…
CHRISTOPHER BELL: The best race for me, my group. The Phoenix one last year was terrible for me. I was really slow. Then Phoenix two wasn’t much better. Frankly, we weren’t competitive at Phoenix last year as the 20 car. Phoenix one, 2023, I felt really competitive. I don’t even remember what happened in that race, but I remember it was a good showing for us.
I feel much more confident going into Phoenix two now than I did last year.
Q. You talked about the disappointment last week. Maybe it was the golden ticket at Vegas. How long did it take to turn the page from that? Were you able to turn it off by Monday?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, not really. I always am thinking of races in the past. I don’t have a light switch, right? I’m not just going to light switch off and on to the next week.
But fortunately whenever I get in the moment, whenever I get in the car for practice or qualifying, I think that’s whenever I’m, like, focusing on the task at hand. We had a couple simulator sessions this week.
It’s not a light switch, but certainly by the time you get to the racetrack, it’s focusing on the task that’s in front of you.
Q. Joe talked about last year, basically said there are going to be memories. I’m not going to suggest that a championship replaces the loss of a family member. The idea that you’ll be able to go back to Phoenix, potentially lift the spirits in some way, what does that mean?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, last year was just a whirlwind of emotions. Going in there in my first Championship 4, it was very exciting and happy. It flipped very quickly on Sunday morning. It is a huge moment to be in the Final 4. I hope that I’m able to execute.
But I don’t ever want to relive the shocking news that got I guess told upon us hours before you got to go perform at your highest at the most important race of your career. That was not ideal.
I look forward to having that moment again, and hopefully under different circumstances this time.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, yeah, it will be nice to have him around. Last year was just insane, like unheard of. It will definitely be a lot better this year.
Q. You understand what the six guys who are still in the running for the two spots, what their minds are going to be like this coming week. How does the mindset change going into this last race knowing you need a result to have a chance? What will change in their minds?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I may just stay home next week (laughter). No, I’m kidding.
Your outlook for the race is completely different. So if the strategy presents itself, an opportunity to flip the stages and get track position, you take it because you’re not worried about points.
Yeah, I mean, those guys have a lot more to race for than what I do now going into Martinsville. The mentality’s completely different for them than it is for me. You just have to be aware of that.
Being able to focus on just winning the race and not having to score points definitely has its benefits. That’s where we’re at. I think we should be really competitive next week. Martinsville is obviously a good track for me. I look forward to going there and having a week with no pressure.
THE MODERATOR: Christopher, thanks for coming in.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Thank you.
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