It’s easy to believe with Christopher Bell’s dominance in the Camping World Truck Series this season that he’s a lock for the 2017 championship. He leads the series with four wins, has eight top-fives and 11 top-10s, three poles, and currently leads the regular season points. He’s a Kyle Busch Motorsports pilot right now, and with backing from Toyota Racing Development, it’s tempting to just call off the competition now and hand him the championship trophy.
But the season isn’t over, and if anyone has any doubts, they can look at the saga of Bell’s former KBM teammate William Byron a year ago. At this point in the 2016 truck season, Byron was only a rookie but had five wins including Pocono and was the season points leader. When he wasn’t winning poles and races, he was scoring top-fives and top-10s, keeping up with the consistency and making sure he was in championship shape as Homestead loomed larger.
After opening up the playoffs with a win at Loudon, Byron rattled off four-straight top-10s, three of which were top-fives, and kept padding onto his points lead. But after winning the pole and leading 112 of the 150 scheduled laps at Phoenix (the elimination race before Homestead), he dropped an engine on lap 141 and finished 27th. That finish ultimately killed his title hopes. Adding insult to injury, Byron could have won the title as he won the season finale at Homestead.
The target is currently on Bell’s back as he is looking to be the man to beat in 2017. He’s regularly outperformed 2016 champion Johnny Sauter, has twice as many wins as John Hunter Nemechek and team owner and part-time driver Kyle Busch, and despite not having as many stage wins as Sauter he does happen to have more playoff points (24) than Sauter (10), which is important considering this new format.
On top of that, the list of tracks coming up could help Bell further assert his dominance over the rest of the field. Proving that he’s a well-rounded driver, in the upcoming tracks he’s finished in the top-10 at every race with the exception of 24th at Michigan a year ago, although that was due to a crash after starting fifth. But while he has an affinity for the 1.5-mile tracks, he’s excelled on short tracks, 1.0-mile tracks, 2.0-mile tracks, and even road courses (he finished fifth at Mosport in 2016).
With Crew Chief Rudy Fugle in his corner (Fugle also led Byron’s seven-win rookie season in 2016), Bell has shown that he has grown immensely after playing second-fiddle to Byron for most of the 2016 season. But although he’s been at the front for most of the 2017 (1,703 laps completed out of 1,868 possible laps in 12 starts, 521 laps led) with very few mishaps (a 25th at Dover thanks to a crash), he’s shown that he’s the main threat for the championship this year. However, it’s already been proven that under this playoff system, things can change in a heartbeat.