Categories
Trucks

Eckes Stays Solid In Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Christian Eckes has made a name for himself in the ARCA Menards Series with three wins this season; however, do not let that distract you from how well he has done in his short time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Entering Friday night, the 18-year-old had three top-10’s and two top-five’s in six starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports, and he continued to impress this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In his mile and a half debut, Eckes started the day off with his third career pole and ended it with a career-best, third-place finish.

“You know, it’s definitely cool to come run good. Especially in my first true a mile and a half race. So, I had fun,” Eckes told POPULAR SPEED. “Honestly, this is one of the more fun races I’ve ever raced. I was able to move around a decent amount and had a good enough truck to make moves that it was fun. I look forward to the next two. I’ve got two more this year, Martinsville and Homestead. And just looking forward to those with this 51 team and what we pick up in there.”

While his next start it is over a month away, the part-time driver of the No. 51 is already looking forward to his trip to the paperclip along with his final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“You know, Martinsville is kind of more of what I’m used to,” Eckes said. “As far as here and moving around and stuff like that because it’s going to be huge for Homestead. So it’s a lot to be learned still. I’ve made a few mistakes out there and I felt like it costs us a shot at getting better track position in 16 was really good there, so I’m not sure if I would have been able to fully hang on, but in the same aspect, if we were there you never know.”

If he is able to continue to perform at his final starts of the year, one will really have to wonder what his future holds given how well he has performed.

However, in the meantime, Eckes will look to capture the ARCA Championship before anything else. In that series, he is currently second in points with three races remaining, including this weekend at Salem Speedway.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Noah Gragson Makes Name Known in XFINITY Debut

Friday night, the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Richmond Raceway was another short track spectacular. The Toyota Care 250 was filled with action on the 0.75-mile oval among many of sport’s rising stars.

Once again, there were no Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars in the field, and four drivers were not only racing for a win, but for $100,000.

Nonetheless, another young star was making his XFINITY Series debut and caught the eye of many after the event. Las Vegas native Noah Gragson brought the No. 18 Switch Toyota Camry home in the second position.

“It’s tough,” Gragson said of his first XFINITY start. “I found a little something in the track, a little speed there at the end of the second stage on old tires, and I kept it in my memory banks till the end, and I told my team, ‘I’ve got something when it’s time to go — just tell me when.’

“And about 18 to go, I told them, ‘I can’t wait any longer; I don’t have any more patience.’ And I ran Christopher down about two or three car lengths.”

After starting 11th,Gragson nearly passed teammate Christopher Bell in the late stages of the race for the lead, but came up short. Despite being frustrated, the 19-year-old demonstrated that Joe Gibbs Racing doesn’t lack talent and has many skilled drivers in their organization.

We saw it the weekend prior, when Ryan Preece, who isn’t running a full-time schedule in the XFINITY Series, won his second career victory. 

But for Gragson, he is young, and his future is bright as he is learning from one of the best in the business, Kyle Busch. He grew up watching him race, and now the future Hall of Famer is his mentor.

His impressive performance at Richmond just added to his success so far. In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver saw victory lane last season at Martinsville and has two top-fives in four races so far this year.

Gragson’s personality outside of a race car is fun and humorous, especially on social media. But when he is strapped in a race car he is focused on running strong and hopefully parking it in victory lane.

The KBM driver is still developing and he will be one to keep an eye after showing signs of success early in his career.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MrBrandonRivero

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Bell Joining Impressive Company with KBM Success

When the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs arrive, a young, successful and talented Kyle Busch Motorsports driver seems to emerge as the championship favorite consistently.

Erik Jones captured the title in 2015 after winning three times and earning 20 top-10s in 23 races. While this performance came under the previous format, strength in the final events of the year propelled the rookie to his first career championship.

Last year, William Byron set the series on fire with six wins and entered the final seven races as the title favorite. He finished inside the top-10 in every Playoffs race but one when he blew an engine while leading late at Phoenix, which cost him the opportunity to compete in the Championship 4.

Now Christopher Bell is following in both competitor’s footsteps, dominating the series and putting himself in position to be the one to beat for the title.

He scored his fifth victory of 2017 in Saturday’s UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and secured his spot in the second round of the post-season. 

The 22-year-old also now holds 47 playoff points, which will tremendously aid his championship efforts.

Now strong runs or a victory at Martinsville, Texas, or Phoenix will place him among the four title contenders for the second consecutive season.

While Bell came home third last year, he is the clear driver to beat this time around.

However, the elimination format changes the game. Jones used a similar performance to what Bell has accomplished this season to capture the championship, but the current rules makes it more difficult for Bell, like Byron, demonstrated last season.

If playoff points had been in play for Byron, he likely would have cruised to the finale but having no advantage after a dominant season going into the second round hurt his title chances. 

Now Bell will have the ability to rely on his bonus points if needed to be among the four contenders. 

After the success of Jones and Byron behind the wheel for KBM, they have gone on to become two of the sport’s most promising young talents.

Next season, Jones will compete for Joe Gibbs Racing while Byron drives for Hendrick Motorsports.  

Now Bell would like to have his on-track record lead to similar opportunities. 

He has shown potential to be a factor each time he’s driven for JGR in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and could use a full-time ride with the organization next season to further showcase his talent like both Jones and Byron have been able to do for their respective teams.

Bell’s focus moving forward will be on the championship as after a dominant day at New Hampshire, it is his to lose in the final six races.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Bell Proving Ready for Next Career Step

Christopher Bell picked up his series-leading fourth victory in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 150 at Pocono Raceway.

The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has impressed through the first 12 races of the season, scoring top-10’s in all but one event.

This strength and consistency has not only proven his potential to once again be a title contender this year after making last season’s Championship 4 but attests to his future in the sport.

KBM has produced high-quality drivers in recent years, and Bell is no exception. He is the third consecutive competitor to compete for the team and have a remarkable season following Erik Jones and William Byron.

However, Bell is setting himself apart from Jones and Byron.

Jones experienced similar consistency as he only placed outside of the top-10 three times in 2015. Bell’s ability to win provides him an edge as Jones only captured three victories while Bell has already surpassed that mark at the halfway point of the season.

Byron’s seven wins in 2016 broke numerous series records, but consistency wasn’t always his strong suit as he captured 16 top-10’s. Bell is at 11 with 11 events remaining in 2017 and will likely top Byron.

Bell is proving to have an advantage in both statistical categories, and it’s creating a stout tenure while showing that he’s worthy of a promotion.

When the 22-year-old made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut at Charlotte in May with Joe Gibbs Racing, he ran exceptional and finished fourth after overcoming adversity from an early race spin.

Bell’s five additional opportunities behind the wheel for JGR this season will likely yield similar results as he has seemed to defy the learning curve that is typically associated with the transition between the two series.

While his sights are set on battling for the Truck Series championship this fall, his performance through the remainder of the season won’t have much influence on his future after establishing himself as a talented, versatile racer over the last year of the half.

A title would be an excellent addition to his résumé but shouldn’t be necessary for him to earn a full-time ride in the XFINITY Series next season.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

NASCAR Next Drivers Gilliland, Burton Already Making Big Moves

One of the most exciting aspects of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is the huge influx of new talent coming into the series.

Young drivers like Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson — all of whom are less than 25 years old — are filling the void created when established stars such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and, soon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. step away from the cockpit.

But the young guns of the Cup series are hardly alone.

There is an entire new wave of even younger drivers coming up through the ranks and they are in a hurry to get there.

In exclusive interviews with PopularSpeed.com, drivers Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton talked about the challenges and opportunities ahead of them.

Gilliland, 17, and Burton, 16, are two of the nine drivers in the NASCAR Next program for upcoming racers, and despite their young ages, the two already have impressive records.

After nine races this season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Burton has four victories and leads the points in that division.

In the K&N Pro Series West, Gilliland is the defending champion and the current point leader with four victories in eight races. In his career dating back to 2015, Gilliland has 11 victories in just 23 West starts. And he’s also racing in the K&N Pro Series East, where he has a pair of victories and is second to Burton in points.

As if that wasn’t enough, both Burton and Gilliland are racing limited schedules in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Heady stuff, for a couple of guys who aren’t even old enough to vote yet.

Of course, it helps that the two grew up with fathers who were NASCAR racers, Harrison being the son of Jeff Burton and Todd the son of David Gilliland. Still, these two are getting it done in a big way at a young age.

For his part, Gilliland gives a lot of the credit for his success to the Bill McAnally Racing team that he drives for.

“No driver can do it without a great team and great equipment,” Gilliland told PopularSpeed.com. “They definitely give me the cars I need to be able to win. And from there, it’s just learning for myself. The races we finish second in or don’t win, it’s about learning how to get myself to the race-winning caliber that my cars are.”

As for the best advice Gilliland has gotten from his father, it’s this: “Just stay humble and patient.”

That’s a sound strategy. The opportunities certainly will be there for Gilliland in the future, although like Burton he’s still finalizing his 2018 plans.

“Being 17 years old, there’s really no rush,” said Gilliland. “It’s really about taking your time and making sure you’re 100 percent ready for every opportunity when it presents itself.”

Burton, on the other hand, sounds a little more impatient.

“It’s been a great advantage having my dad in the sport, but I’m ready to make my own name,” Burton said. “Everyone knows me as Jeff Burton’s son. If you Google my name, it comes up as ‘Jeff Burton’s son.’ I’m ready to make my own name and add to my stature.”

For both drivers, racing in the Truck Series this year has been a positive experience.

“It’s been huge,” says Burton, who has two more races in the trucks this year. “I’ve been able to learn from one of the best in the sport in Kyle Busch. And having the experience of racing with the truck guys is huge. It’s a big deal. I’ve been blessed to run with KBM and have some good finishes, but I’m looking for better ones. We haven’t really finished as good as we’ve run.”

Gilliland said he’s enjoyed racing with the Truck Series regulars.

“It’s really cool to be able to gain their respect,” said Gilliland, who has four more Truck Series starts scheduled in 2017.

For now, both Gilliland and Burton are concentrating on running for K&N Pro Series championships and learning what they can in the Truck Series. But it likely won’t be long before they both move up the NASCAR ladder. And they will be fun to watch along the way.

Categories
Trucks

Sauter’s Showcases Short-Track Prowess with Runner-Up at Iowa

Johnny Sauter excelled Friday night at Iowa Speedway, winning Stage 2, finishing second, and collecting more points than any driver in the field.

This performance attested to his short track racing prowess that has defined his season through the first nine races. He hasn’t finished worse than third at the smaller venues on the schedule, including runner-up results at Martinsville and now Iowa. 

He has also placed better than Christopher Bell in each of his runner-up performances. 

With Sauter and Bell leading the way in the driver’s standings in first and second respectively, the championship battle could come down between the two competitors this fall.

While Sauter has outperformed Bell at the smaller tracks, the driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota has been masterful at the larger venues. 

Both of his victories this season came at 1.5-mile facilities, Atlanta and Texas. Texas is also one of the three mile-and-a-half’s in the playoffs, and its position in the second round means a victory there would advance a title contender to the Championship 4.

Sauter will also benefit from having three smaller tracks in the post-season with New Hampshire, Martinsville, and Phoenix. Last fall, he won at Martinsville and placed second at Phoenix en route to his first career championship.

Talladega will be the one wild card factor in the playoffs as its unpredictability and position as an elimination race will make survival critical to post-season success.

While the GMS Racing drivers’ experience in the series may lend the upper hand in some playoff events, the championship race is hosted at a track that suits Bell, Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Sauter did beat Bell there last November to capture the title, but Kyle Busch Motorsports has shown tremendous improvement at 1.5-mile tracks this season and has won every intermediate race so far in 2017. 

If both drivers continue to show the way in the series, this fall’s championship battle will pit experience against youth and short-track success at odds with mile-and-a-half prowess.

Whichever competitor and team can make up ground at the other’s stronghold over the course of the summer will likely earn an advantage that could decide the title race.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

KBM Continues Intermediate Track Dominance at Texas

Christopher Bell’s victory Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway kept Kyle Busch Motorsports a perfect four for four at 1.5-mile tracks in 2017.

Bell scored the first mile-and-a-half win this season at Atlanta by sweeping all three stages and leading a race-high 99 laps.

Team owner Kyle Busch then conquered Kansas and Charlotte, pacing the field for the most laps in each event and capturing his 47th and 48th career series victories respectively.

Bell again excelled at Texas, leading for 92 circuits and coming home with his league-leading second victory among series regulars.

With intermediate venues dominating over a third of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule, performing well at the nine events each year is critical.

KBM also proved to have the upper hand at 1.5-mile venues at the end of last season as the organization has picked up eight of the last ten intermediate track victories.

Carrying this edge into the playoffs may make Bell the favorite as winning the three mile-and-a-half playoff events will deliver the title.

A victory at Las Vegas in the opening round would advance a competitor to Round 2. Then a win at Texas would guarantee a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the crown is awarded.  

While there are only two more intermediate events before the post-season action begins at New Hampshire in September, two additional stout runs at Kentucky and Chicagoland will likely confirm KBM as the title favorites.

The two-month difference between the races will also indicate KBM’s ability to maintain its leg-up over the summer as other teams improve their programs.

Only Bell is currently locked into the championship run, but a trip to Victory Lane by teammate Noah Gragson in the next nine events could give the team another opportunity to win it all this fall.

If Bell continues to thrive, particularly at the mile-and-a-half circuits, it will be hard to bet against him and KBM when it comes to the playoffs.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Coming of Age, Bell Shining Bright in 2017

If Saturday’s Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is any indication, 2017 might be a coming out party for Christopher Bell.

Bell, a 22-year-old native of Norman, OK dominated from the drop of the green flag leading a race-high 99 laps en route to his first win of the 2017 campaign.

Saturday’s win was redemption following last year at Atlanta. It appeared as though Bell was headed to victory lane then when disaster struck with just seven laps to go.

After leading 42 laps, Bell crashed off of turn four, eliminating any chance to win and leaving him with a 26th place finish. Bell said the race from one year ago was fresh on his mind coming to Atlanta this week.

“Well, this was definitely a race I had circled ever since we left here last February, but to be able to be see good here last year and then to come back and be as dominant as what we were was really cool for me and it was just kind of a dream weekend ever since we unloaded.” he said.

Bell said the truck was fast from the get-go and was able to improve throughout the race. He also said being able to restart at the bottom after being stuck back in traffic was critical in winning the race.

“We were really, really fast right off the truck and everything we did to it just made it better and better and better throughout practice,” Bell said. “As soon as they dropped the green in the race, it was just really, really good and then kind of got shuffled there on the restart and got stalled out back there in fifth or sixth, but whenever we were able to restart back on the bottom, we were able to get right back up there.”

While it may be redemption for Bell, it also shows the growth in him as a driver in just over a year. Last year, he started off the season struggling with a series of bad finishes, as noted by four finishes outside of the top-10 in the first seven races despite being fast each week. Though after a couple of low points through the summer last year, it seemed growth as a driver began to happen as consistent finishes were being put together each week, and he qualified as one of the Championship 4 for the Camping World Truck Series Chase.

Now with those lessons put in place to start this year, Bell finished eighth at Daytona despite two incidents, and a win at Atlanta to start off this season, putting him at the top of the points standings.

The early success has been a product of Bell’s growth, but also the team bringing fast trucks to the track, as per team owner Kyle Busch.

“I think it’s just a true testament to everybody at KBM that does such a great job building fast trucks, you know? I think that that’s the first opportunity you’ve got to give these younger drivers and then from there, they have to have the know with all to be able to go out there and succeed in that equipment and we saw it last year,” said Busch.

“Christopher’s now won three years in a row in the Truck Series, which is really cool. We saw it last year with William (Byron) being successful and being able to move on and Christopher is now kind of taking the reins of KBM and being the elder statesman here and the experienced guy in being able to kind of be our lead dog for the championship, so certainly it’s been really fun to watch him and to see him progress from last year into this year and to see the calmness and everything even how crazy Daytona was to see how he came out of that and then to come here and have the focus to just go out there and be fast right off the truck and do all the right things in the race.”

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Myatt Snider Races His Way from the Short Tracks to Primetime

Myatt Snider has been a fixture in the Late Model Stock Car scene for close to five years, but now the 22-year-old from Charlotte is set to race in primetime in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway will be Snider’s second career start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the first of eight races he is scheduled run with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2017.  Snider, the son of veteran NBC Sports broadcaster Marty Snider, has confidence and is eager to learn after spending last season running part-time in the ARCA Racing Series.

“Last year I got good experience in the ARCA series,” Snider said.  “It kind of prepared us to run for Kyle Busch Motorsports and it’s a great opportunity to get in the best of the best and the best equipment I can possibly be in.  I feel like it’s a great opportunity.  Glad to have Louisiana Hot Sauce with me.  I think it’s going to be a good race.”

Snider has every reason to be optimistic as well.  He had immediate success in the ARCA Racing Series, scoring a victory in his first series start at Toledo Speedway in May racing for Cunningham Motorsports.  The success and the seamless transition to stock cars was surprising to Snider, considering his transition from Legend Cars to a Late Model Stock Car was anything but easy.

“I made the transition to Late Models, I was doing all I could to be as well performing as I could,” Snider explained.  “It was more of a difficult transition than I thought. I didn’t understand the concept until 2014.  Coming into ARCA, I was able to apply a good amount of knowledge as far as race dynamics and it helped out a bunch.”

That transition, while surprising to Snider, was also a confidence booster.

“It was a great confidence booster.  I understand that I can run these heavier cars with a different tire,” Snider said.  “It’s a different driving dynamic with all that weight and different tires so it did give me a shot of confidence so I feel good going into Daytona.”

Snider’s evolution as a driver was evident in Late Model Stock Cars.  In 2013, he was gaining a reputation for being aggressive and impatient.  Snider had the speed, putting together strong runs at tracks such as South Boston Speedway, but putting the whole deal together was somewhere he struggled.

“It was sort of a learning curve,” Snider stated.  “You know, I was fortunate to have a lot of great mentors along the way and I feel like that theme is going to continue.”

Despite winning a race at Caraway Speedway in 2013, it wasn’t until 2014 when Snider began to grasp the Late Models.  He won a handful of races that season and finished second in championship points at the very competitive Southern National Motorsports Park.  A year later, Snider began to make the statement that he would, in fact, become a superstar.

Snider competed full-time in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour in 2015.  In that series, he began clicking off consistent top-five finishes.  While he went winless in the CARS Tour, he was in the championship hunt all the way through the final race, finishing third in points after some bad luck at the season finale race at Hickory Motor Speedway.

“It was definitely a good training and proving ground for me,” Snider remarked.  “It taught me to run longer duration races and keep up front without wearing your stuff out too much.  Those longer distance races helped a bunch, especially Myrtle Beach.  That was a learning experience and showcase at the same time.  It was a combination of everything.  I’m glad I ran that series, it helped me transition better I think.”

A few weeks after the CARS Tour season concluded in 2015, he’d score a win in the Myrtle Beach 400, one of Late Model Stock Car racing’s crowned jewel events, prevailing in a thrilling battle with Late Model Stock Car goliaths Lee Pulliam and Tommy Lemons, Jr.

“It definitely gave me some confidence as far as my ability.  It’s one of the biggest races of the year.”

Snider, who has worked at Joe Gibbs Racing while attending classes at a nearby university, never knew if his journey would take him to NASCAR, but he had hoped it would.  His sponsor, Louisiana Hot Sauce, is committed and Snider says everyone around him has worked as hard as he has to make this happen.

“Everybody with me was trying to work as hard as they could to make it a possibility.  Got very fortunate to have Louisiana Hot Sauce come on board with us in 2016 with the ARCA Series and they’ve been very pleased with what they’ve seen so far and they’re going to continue sponsoring me.”

Snider has progressed with his father by his side, supportive of him every step of the way and often cheering him on from atop the team’s hauler in the infield.  Now, as Myatt moves to the big leagues, Marty will have a different view of his son’s continued success, perhaps one that ends with him interviewing his son in victory lane one day.

“He says interviewing one of your family members is against unspoken rules of broadcasting but it may happen eventually,” the younger Snider said. “There is definitely a chance I could be in that place one day, especially with Louisiana Hot Sauce coming on board.  They’re giving me a chance honestly.  There’s no way I could put into words how thankful I am for that.”

Snider will be racing at Daytona with veteran crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion.  In addition to Daytona, Snider will also compete in races at Texas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The NextEra Energy Resources 250 from Daytona can be seen live on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) on Friday night, with coverage beginning at 7:30pm EST.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Christopher Bell

Christopher Bell enjoyed a very solid rookie campaign in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016. In addition to scoring his second career NCWTS win, he also qualified for the Championship 4 in the inaugural NCWTS Chase.

Car No. 4

Crew Chief: Jerry Baxter

Team: Kyle Busch Motorsports

Wins: 1

Top-Fives: 9

Top-10’s: 17

Points Finish: 3rd

2016 Quick Summary: After a slow start to the 2016 season with three finishes outside of the top-15, Bell would record a string of 17 top-10 finishes in the season’s final 20 races which included a win at Gateway and nine top fives.

The consistency for Bell was most apparent through the Chase, only finishing outside of the top-10 once with an 11th at Texas Motor Speedway. It allowed him to enter Homestead-Miami Speedway with a shot at the championship, but ultimately an eighth place finish wasn’t enough to take home the title.

2016 Highlight(s): Bell recorded his second career Truck Series win in the June race at Gateway Motorsports Park. He led 38 laps and held off a hard-charging Ben Rhodes to score the victory.

2016 Lowlight(s): The June race at Texas Motor Speedway was an absolute nightmare for Bell as engine woes ended the 22-year-old’s night before it even started leaving him with a 32nd place finish.

2017 Outlook: Bell will return to the No. 4 JBL Audio Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2017. While Bell is figured to be one of the top contenders for the championship next season, he won’t have veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter calling the shots as Baxter has moved on to GMS Racing in 2017. Bell will also have new teammates coming on board at KBM next season with the additions of Noah Gragson, Todd Gilliland, Harrison Burton, and Myatt Snider.

If despite the changes Bell continues his consistency and grows more as a driver, he could very well call himself a champion at the end of 2017.

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.