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XFINITY

Bell Shows Promise in XFINITY Series Debut

Christopher Bell has been a rising star in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series since his debut in 2015.

Through 35 career starts, he’s scored 25 top-10 finishes including three victories. He competed for the championship last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway but ultimately finished the season third in the standings. 

Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota recognized the 22-year-old’s potential and put him behind the wheel of the No. 18 car in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for the first time on Saturday.

A test at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this month allowed Bell his first chance to climb behind the wheel of a XFINITY Series car and prepare for the Hisense 4K TV 300.

“Having the test was huge,” Bell said. “Being able to get seat time and get a feel for it at the test, I don’t think I was very fast at the test. I knew I didn’t have to be the fastest car at the test, all I needed to do was get a feel for it and get some laps and come here this weekend and show speed.”

The opening laps of Saturday’s event didn’t go as planned as a spin down the frontstretch on Lap 4 put Bell behind early.

“After we got spun out, I was pretty confident that we’ll work our way back up there but every run, I’d have to start tailback and just kick it to about 18th before I stalled out,” Bell said. “I knew it was really good but just needed track position to get up there.”

However, once he earned track position through numerous cautions, Bell worked his way back to the front and came home fourth.

He placed highest among the non-Cup Series drivers in the field and finished better than two seasoned premiere level veterans, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

In a race dominated by Cup Series regulars as they have now won the last eight May races at Charlotte, scoring a top-five is an impressive feat.

Bell had competed at Charlotte twice in the Truck Series before Saturday. His first start was postponed from night to a day race, which provided Bell an understanding of how the speedway races under the sun. With the Hisense 4K TV 300 being the lone day event at the track until recently, having run during the day was an invaluable experience and likely gave him a leg-up.

“When Toyota came to me and said they have some XFINITY races, I was pretty excited Charlotte was the first one,” Bell said. “Charlotte was one of my favorite race tracks last year whenever we got to run the truck race in the day.”

Compared to other young competitors in the Toyota camp, Bell’s performance is remarkable. When Daniel Suarez made his series debut in 2014, he finished 19th at Richmond. During Erik Jones’ debut at Chicagoland in 2014, he came home seventh.

Now as Bell looks to follow in the footsteps of both Suarez and Jones who are now competing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he will have seven more races behind the wheel for JGR in 2017.

Continuing to run well could pay off for Bell as he eyes his next career step of a full-time XFINITY Series ride.

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By Jason Schultz

Jason Schultz aspires to enter the public relations field of NASCAR. Schultz, 19, attends UNC Charlotte and is a communication studies major with a focus in public relations. In addition to contributing to POPULAR SPEED, Schultz produces podcasts for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Dirty Mo Radio. He also completed a semester as a social media intern at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each year, he volunteers as the social media correspondent for Autism Delaware's Drive for Autism golf tournament featuring NASCAR personalities and the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover.