NASCAR Cup Series
Christopher Bell 1-on-1: 'I try to be a clean racer and a respectful racer'
NASCAR Cup Series

Christopher Bell 1-on-1: 'I try to be a clean racer and a respectful racer'

Published Apr. 4, 2024 11:19 a.m. ET

Christopher Bell has advanced the NASCAR championship race the past two years and already has pretty much locked himself in the playoffs with a victory earlier this year at Phoenix — the site of the championship race in November.

But Bell also has been in the headlines for incidents with Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch a couple of weeks ago at Circuit of the Americas, with Busch getting in Bell's face after the race to voice his displeasure.

The 29-year-old Oklahoma driver, who has seven career Cup wins and is in his fifth full-time Cup season, spoke with FOX Sports last week at Richmond. 

Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:


What did you think after seeing the replay of the COTA wreck and did you think anything different than during the race about the contact with Kyle Busch? 

I don't know. I made contact with him. And he spun out. I understand why he's upset. We had a conversation [the next day] and I thought that it went well. I actually called him and he didn't answer and I thought that that was going to be the end of it. And he called me back, so that was really cool that he had the respect towards me to call me back and he didn't have to do that. It's behind us and whatever happens moving forward, it is what it is.

Most of the discussion on social — I don't know if you listen to it ...

I stayed off social media

... is about like the look on your face. People couldn't tell if you were scared or just listening to him and not wanting to show any reaction that might spark a reaction from him?

I'm trying to take myself back to that moment, but there were a couple of things going on. Number 1, I felt pretty ill after the race. It went green other than the stages and normally I can get a drink inside the car — it's called Skratch, it's like an additive to water that makes me feel a lot better. I didn't get the Skratch in there, so I was feeling ill after the race. And he came up to me and what am I going to say? I made contact with the dude. I hadn't seen a replay, so I didn't know exactly what went down. And I knew that he had every right to be mad. I just didn't want to say anything that was out of terms or without having more information of the event.

Christopher Bell left a message for Kyle Busch — and Busch returned the call after COTA incident

You don't get in too many extended rivalries — you and Larson a little bit, you and Kyle Busch. Why not?

 I don't know. I take pride in that. And I try to be a clean racer and a respectful racer. And the last thing that I want to do — whether it's Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson or Ross Chastain or Brad Keselowski, any of them — the last thing that I want to do is ruin someone's race. I feel a lot of guilt whenever I do get into people. I got into the back of Larson at Pocono [a couple years ago] and spun him out and ironically, the Pocono incident and what happened at COTA were oddly similar, where both situations I had no intention at all of making an aggressive move. I was just trying to help him at Pocono, push him down the straightaway and I just spun him out. Then at COTA, I just misjudged my speed and I think he was already loose, and I spun him out there. I just feel really guilty because I hinder someone's race, and that's not what I want to do.

For the second year in a row, you got a win early in the season. What does that mean? And then at COTA, you certainly went for playoff points instead of track position when it was in your hands. I want to say that was a point of emphasis from what you were saying before?

Looking back at it, that playoff point probably hindered our chance at winning the race or certainly made it more difficult, but it's so nice to be locked in. Atlanta and Vegas, I had two really bad races in a row and I still really haven't recovered from that in the point standings and all of our cars are running really good right now. My season feels like it's going well, but my hauler is still fourth out of the [four] JGR haulers. I feel a lot better about it now that I've won a race at Phoenix and we're locked into the playoffs, so we can solely focus on the task at hand and not have to worry about what's hanging over our head of making the playoffs.

You've got to feel good that the equipment is there?

Absolutely. This is by far the best cars that I've ever had since I've been in the Cup Series. And [teammate] Ty [Gibbs] has taken a huge step this year. He's performing really well and then with Danny [Hamlin] and Martin [Truex Jr.], they're going to be good week-in and week-out. Right now, I'm fourth in points out of the JGR cars but we're all four running exceptional right now.

Christopher Bell reflects on his first full Cup season

Going into Martinsville weekend, do you still go back there and think of the win-and-in from the 2022 playoffs?

Martinsville is unique. It's something else because even to this day, I feel like it's one of my harder racetracks for me to do well at. We've had good results there, but all it takes is a little thing to go wrong, and you're in for a rough day. It's one that you have to be on your game every single time you go to Martinsville — otherwise you're going to be in for a rude awakening. The win in 2022 was certainly a highlight of my life and career. I'd love to duplicate that again.

Martinsville is tough for dirt guy because you're so used to trying to find the line and adapting — and Martinsville only has one lane to get around?

I'll never forget dirt racing and just getting introduced to the NASCAR scene, and I got told that you'll do really well everywhere except for one racetrack — and that one racetrack is Martinsville. It's just absolutely backwards from all of the tendencies and driving techniques that you grow up doing driving sprint cars and dirt-track racing, where you're attacking all the time, the harder you drive in the corner, typically the better it is. At Martinsville, it's all about rhythm. It's all about being smooth and consistent. And, generally, the harder you try at Martinsville, the worse you go.

Speaking of dirt, since you don't run it anymore (JGR doesn't allow its drivers to race non-NASCAR events), do you watch it? At Texas, Larson's High Limit Series is running at the dirt track on the property. Will you go walk around in the pits or can you not get that close because it's not fun?

I'm a super fan. I'm really excited about the High Limit Series being in Texas. That'll be fun to go out and watch and see all my friends and competitors that I used to race against. I've watched everything that I can and certainly I'm looking forward to the days of getting out to the racetrack.

I almost totally forgot that you drove for Leavine Family Racing for a year. So I'm curious what was that experience like and how do you look at that 2020 season?

I don't know if brokenhearted is the right way to put it. But the [LFR No.] 95 car was really set up for success — we were in a great spot. And then when COVID hit and knocked out practice and qualifying, that hurt us really, really bad. ... The way that they started lining up the races was off of the point standings, and I was buried in the points. I didn't get off to a good start — I wrecked at Daytona; I'm pretty sure I wrecked like the first three races, so that wasn't good. I was buried in the points so now you're starting last every week with no practice, no qualifying and you have the last pit selection. It was just a really, really tough go of it that 2020 season. By the middle to end of the season, I felt like my driving and our car potential was respectable, but it was hard to showcase that just because we were buried most of the time. That was a very, very hard and trying first season for sure.

And then what was it like to move to Gibbs and then obviously being paired with Adam Stevens, who was Kyle Busch's crew chief?

It was obviously an exciting time in my life to know that I'm going to JGR and being in the [No.] 20 car, being at the house team was really good. Adam Stevens is a legendary crew chief and I knew that going into it, winning multiple championships. I knew that this was my chance and my opportunity, and I needed to make the most of it. And it still took us a little bit to kind of get our feet underneath us. We still didn't have a bunch of practice or qualifying in 2021. At times, we would hit it. I remember the Daytona road course, which was Race 2 of the year, I won. And it was just magical — Adam, his setup jived with the way that I drove the car and it was amazing and a fun race. And then the week after, we go to Homestead, and I ran like 25th because it just didn't work — the way that he set the car up and I drove the car, it wasn't compatible. In 2022 was the first year that we had consistent practice and qualifying, and that's when we really started to hit our stride of learning what I needed inside the car setup-wise. My feedback to him was becoming more valuable because we had more time to make changes. In 2020 and 2021, the changes are on pit road during the race for the most part. My feedback is in race conditions, and then he has a wedge wrench or track-bar [change option]. That's it. So getting practicing and qualifying back was really the key for mine and Adam's success.

Christopher Bell on following Kyle Busch as the driver for crew chief Adam Stevens

Was there more pressure or less pressure going to the guy who used to crew chief Kyle Busch — because he's used to winning, but also I assume you feel like you're never going to say something that he hasn't heard before with the fiery Busch?

I would say the biggest thing was I couldn't even imagine, from his standpoint, how opposite myself and Kyle are. Kyle is a very powerful person. And I'm shy and reserved and keep to myself. I couldn't imagine the difference from 2020 to 2021.

Do you feel like you can say something if you get really mad because you should get a pass compared to what Kyle would have said?

I don't even really think about it. I don't even think about it like that, but I'm sure that — I know — that he had a rough go of it.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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