Motor Racing Network’s Dillon Welch talks with Christopher Bell about a number of topics prior to this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway. Parts of this interview will be featured in MRN’s pre-race show for the Pocono Organics 325 in partnership with Rodale Institute.
Welch: Christopher, you and I talked at Daytona at the start of the year about your first year in Cup and kind of your expectations given your success in the Truck Series and then ultimately the Xfinity series. Now at the roughly midpoint of the year in your first Cup season how would you evaluate how things stand right now?
Bell: I think we started off very disappointing. We went to Daytona and we had a lot of speed but obviously that’s not really relative to real racing. The West Coast was extremely disappointing, but after that big long coronavirus break and we got back to racing I think we’ve been doing a lot better and we’ve been gaining on it. We just dug ourselves a huge hole from Daytona as far as points standings goes. I am disappointed with where we’re at, but I am optimistic of how we’ve been running and I hope that were able to continue to grow.
Welch: What kind of things have surprised you about racing in the Cup Series – whether it be competition or anything like that. What has surprised you the most?
Bell: It’s a good question and I would say that probably the toughest part about Cup racing is just the distance of the races. There’s so many opportunities for something to go wrong and take you out of it. And you know, these races are roughly twice the distance of what I’ve been doing in the Xfinity cars. So it’s a big change and it’s a big thing to get adapted to.
Welch: When we talked in Daytona, we kind of talked about how for you, you know, especially the last few years, you were so used to winning, so used to running up front, but you expected when you got to the Cup Series that it wasn’t going to be that I don’t even want to say that easy, but it was going to be tough to continue those type of performances. Are you happy with you personally and how you’ve adapted to that level of competition and the length of the races and everything that you kind of mentioned there.
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Bell: I don’t know if happy is the right word. I’m disappointed with the results that we’ve had, but we’ve had a couple of good runs. Looking back at Bristol we were in position to finish get our first top five of the year before we had an incident on pit road there. Homestead was another really good race for us. So we’ve had a couple of moments that are really good. We just got to continue to build on that and get to have more of those moments. We are just in a hole right now. The way that the formats working out where we’re starting in the back every week that makes it difficult. So hopefully we can just continue to keep plugging away and getting a little bit better week in and week out.
Welch: What’s it like for you as a racer to get to race on Sunday’s, to race in the Cup Series. Everybody has goals. I know for you, you know, the dirt side obviously is very important to you. But I know you appreciate and you know respect the opportunity that you have to race in the Cup Series. What’s it like for you? Is it everything you thought it’d be?
Bell: Yeah, it’s crazy man. I mean the biggest thing was just, you know, I’ve been around these drivers and the Xfinity Series obviously racing with Kyle Busch, (Kevin) Harvick, (Joey) Logano, (Brad) Keselowski, those guys that participate in the Xfinity Series. It was really eye-opening that first race at Daytona to see the iconic race cars, you know, like for example, I was around Denny Hamlin. I’ve been around any a lot because I’ve been in the Gibbs organization for a number of years now, but to see that iconic FedEx purple 11 car on the racetrack was just like, you know, it hit hard because that car I watched on TV for so long and I never raced against it until that moment. Then seeing the M&M’s 18 and just all those iconic race cars that you watch on TV for so long and then the next thing, you know, you’re trading paint with it. It’s pretty cool.
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Welch: For you coming into this you’ve got a sense of familiarity and the fact you got Jason Ratcliff as your crew chief, but your spotter Stevie Reeves somebody that you hadn’t worked with until this year, but obviously have a great relationship with. What’s it been like working with Stevie, you know, he’s a dirt racer, he comes from the same background as you and I know you guys have a great friendship.
Bell: It’s cool to be able to drive for Stevie because he obviously has kind of been there done that and like you mentioned he came from the same background as me. So I think we’re pretty much on the same page as far as languages. And you know, I’m really good friends with his kid too. So there’s a well-rounded relationship there and I’m glad that he’s my spotter. I’m looking forward to that day that we get to take Victory Lane pictures together.
Welch: Is there lingo that you guys can use that or maybe that you haven’t been able to use with another spotter just because he understands the short track, dirt track racing lingo?
Bell: I think he just understands my driving style and you know me and Stevie have been around each other for a while now. He’s watching me race outside of stock cars for a little bit. So he just kind of understands me. He understands what’s going through my head and you know he can typically keep me under control pretty well and keep me going the right way.
Welch: When’s your next dirt race? I know obviously you try to do that as much as you can. What’s your calendar look like from that perspective?
Bell: Yeah, it’s been tough. I haven’t been able to do anything since the Chili Bowl. So I haven’t ran dirt at all this year and hopefully I’ll be able to in the coming future, but I’m not really sure what it looks like as of now.
Welch: Pocono this weekend, obviously a unique beast. We went to Talladega this past weekend and we come to another unique racetrack this week. What are you expecting? What kind of challenges are you expecting maybe to encounter at Pocono this weekend?
Bell: Well Pocono, I think it’s a place that we could go and have a really good run at or it’s a place that we could go and really struggle at. With no practice it seems like Pocono is a place where you’re really car-dependent. If your car is good, you’re going to go good. If your car is not good, you’re going to struggle. So if the guys hit it right off the truck, I think we’re going to have a great day. And then we have an opportunity to work on it too. So if race one doesn’t work out, I would expect race two to be a little bit better. And if race one is good, I hope we can repeat that in race two.
Welch: What do you think of the no practice deal? Again, I mean that’s something for the dirt racing guys. You get maybe two or three laps of practice on a normal race night, you know, obviously less than that, you know, given our current situation. But unloading off the truck and just you know, figuring it out as you go. What does that been like for you?
Bell: Yeah, it’s been really enjoyable for me. And you know, my background has kind of lent me towards not having practice and having to figure it out on the fly. My guys at Leavine Family Racing have been doing a great job of getting the car right off the truck. So I’ve been a big fan of it and you know, I think it’s produced some really good races.