Toyota Racing – Christopher Bell
NASCAR Cup Series Quotes
CHARLOTTE (December 17, 2020) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell was made available to media via videoconference:
CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 20 DeWalt Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How does sponsorship work for your dirt program?
“I would say the dirt racing stuff is completely different than the NASCAR stuff. I would say all the teams that I drive for and the majority of the professional dirt teams handle the sponsorship side and then they hire the drivers. It’s a little bit different on the dirt side from the NASCAR side at that point.”
Do you have the same obligations as you would for a NASCAR sponsorship?
“It really just depends on who the sponsor is and what they are requiring for the weekend. With 2020 and how it’s all played out, the majority of sponsorship obligations from NASCAR and the dirt world have pretty much gone virtual. There’s not much to do at the real racetrack just because of the lack of driver engagement and stuff like that. I would say 2020 has been really weird with that, but it all just depends on the sponsor, who it is and what they are requiring. I’ve had to do different stuff from dirt racing to NASCAR racing. It all just depends on who the sponsor is, who they are bringing to the racetrack and what they have in mind. The sponsor gets what they require or what they want to a certain extent, but it’s just whoever the sponsor is and what they want to do.”
Have you talked to Erik Jones?
“No, not really. If we bump into each other, we will say hi, but we don’t really communicate on a day-to-day basis.”
How well do you feel like you have got to know the crew and with the COVID restrictions how long do you think it will take for you to know all the systems?
“It’s definitely been good to have this downtime. I’m sure you’ve been paying attention. I haven’t been racing at all. I haven’t been in a car since Phoenix. I’ve been focusing on getting to – and just being around the new 20 group. I’ve spent a lot of time with Adam (Stevens, crew chief) just building that relationship with him and get more comfortable around each other. It’s been good so far. I would say we have a little ways to go, but that always gets sped up once you start racing because you are right in the thick of things and you are dealing with each other more on a business level. Whenever I go to the shop today, it’s not like there is cars sitting there that I can go sit in and start getting comfortable in. This part of the offseason is pretty slow for us right now, not a lot going on. So, a lot of hanging out and getting to know each other. I feel like I’ve put in a lot of effort to be around Adam more and hopefully, we can start off good whenever we get back to racing.”
Will you do anything different at the Chili Bowl with the COVID pandemic?
“I think the Chili Bowl program is doing – I hate to say a good job limiting people, but unfortunately, that is what it has come to and I think it’s going to be a totally different atmosphere this year, from what it was from years past. From my standpoint, typically I’m out hanging out with my t-shirt sales and signing autographs and shaking hands with everybody that walks by. Obviously, that is not going to occur. I’m not sure we are even bringing t-shirts to the event this year with the limited capacity. All of the merchandise sales will probably be online. It’s definitely not going to be what it was the past couple of years.”
Did Adam Stevens move to the 20 team or did the 18 team become the 20 team?
“So, its Adam and all the mechanics from the 18 car minus the car chief, that is the 20 group. The pit crew stayed with Kyle, so we have a new pit crew, but as far as all of the mechanics, engineers and Adam Stevens, they all came from the 18 car with a car chief change, so the majority of the group is the 18 group from last year minus the car chief and pit crew.”
With your rookie season behind you, what were your expectations?
“We went into 2020 hoping to win a race. I’m not going to say expecting to win a race but hoping to win a race and that didn’t happen, which was fine. If we don’t win a race in our rookie year, that’s fine. We expected to be more competitive than we were and running up front, more in the top-10, more in the top-five than we were. Texas was a great race for us. We were really competitive at Texas. I felt like I had a car capable of winning. If we could have had more days like that, and we still didn’t win, I would say it would have been a success. Unfortunately, we only had two of those days at Texas and Pocono. There were a handful of races where I would say I had cars that were capable of running in the top-five, where either I made a mistake, like Pocono 2. I spun out. Indy, we had a great car and I got damage on pit road early in the race. There were a handful of races that we let slip by, but for the most part, we were just not as competitive as we wanted to be. We really struggled on pit road. That was a huge struggle for us. That put us behind the eight-ball a lot. I feel like we had our hands tied a lot and we couldn’t perform like we expected to and wanted to.”
What did you learn about racing in the Cup Series?
“Everyone can sit here and tell you that it’s a lot – I don’t know what the right word is. I knew that the field was tougher. I knew there was a lot more capable drivers and cars, but just getting a feel for the depth of the series – that’s something that nobody can really prepare you for. My eye opener was Vegas 1 of last year, what I call the first race of the year outside of Daytona. I expected to have a top-15 day, maybe compete for a top-10. Vegas is a good track for me as a race car driver. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), I believe won there with Martin Truex at the end of 2019. All of their cars were really good at the end of 2019, so I expect to, as I said, have a top-15 day, maybe compete for a top-10 and we go to Vegas 1 and I was running outside of the top-20 then I look up in front of me and Denny (Hamlin), Kyle (Busch), Erik (Jones) – I think Martin had a pretty good day – but Denny, Kyle and Erik were outside of the top-15, a couple of cars in front of me. That was eye opening, like wow, it’s pretty easy to be outside of the top-15 and for me, it was easy to be outside of the top-20. I didn’t expect the depth that the Cup Series actually has.”
How important is it for the newly crown champion, Chase Elliott, to try something new and go to the Chili Bowl and race a dirt midget?
“I’m thrilled that he’s doing it. I think that it’s really cool. Important, I don’t know if it’s important that he does it, but I think it’s really awesome the fact he’s willing to step outside of his comfort zone and obviously, try something that is completely different than something he has ever done in his life. It gives me a ton of respect for him and I’m proud of him for trying, and yeah, just ups my respect level tremendously for him.”
What is that respect level when there are several NASCAR drivers who show that they are not too big to go and do other forms of motorsports?
“It’s really cool to see that Chase (Elliott) is doing it. It was really awesome, like last year, we had (Ryan) Newman, and Newman grew up in the open wheel world, so it wasn’t a shock, but it was good to have Newman, and every year, we have (Ricky) Stenhouse, myself, (Kyle) Larson. We have a handful of guys. (Justin) Allgaier is always there. It is a pretty big deal. He’s NASCAR’s most popular driver. He’s the 2020 champion coming to run the Chili Bowl. It is a really big deal, and obviously, he’s putting in the time and effort to go and be prepared, running the extra race at Millbridge a couple of weeks ago. I think he’s done a couple of tests. He’s putting in the time and effort to have a little bit of seat time going into the Chili Bowl, and it’s going to be fun to see how it works out.”
Has the lack of winning with the 18 and 20 teams last year affected change at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR)? What have you talked about with Adam Stevens or the team to change that and win more in 2021?
“I think if you look at 2020 as a whole, it was definitely a down year for JGR, compared to what 2019 was. 2019 was stellar. The 19, the 18 and the 11 were all in the final four. The 20 car won one or two races. That was a really good year, and then 2020 was definitely different. Martin (Truex) won Martinsville, and Denny (Hamlin) pretty much carried the banner, winning the majority of the races, and the 18 and the 20 had off years. I don’t expect 2021 to be like 2020. I think that Joe Gibbs Racing is obviously a power house team and they are focused on getting back to where they were in 2019. But yeah, you just look at how the races played out in 2020 and Kyle (Busch) had multiple opportunities where he could have won, it just didn’t work out for him. You will have that, so ultimately if we just keep putting ourselves in position and we are competitive enough, and we are fast enough, we have a good pit crew, we execute races and don’t make mistakes, that’s all we can ask for. Whether we win one time or we win eight times, just being competitive is the main goal. You see that even with Kevin Harvick. He was one of the top teams last year, and didn’t make the final four, but that didn’t label the season as a failure, just because he didn’t make the final four. I think we have to look at different stuff outside of what the result page shows.”
Can you talk about your relationship with your new teammates?
“That was something that I was very nervous about going into my rookie season. Last year, I was part of the competition meetings, so my relationship as teammates won’t really change from 2020 to 2021. I talked to Jason (Ratcliff) about that, even when we were in Xfinity. ‘How do competition meetings go and how do I provide useful information to the teams?’ I don’t want to be the one that is just taking all the time. I want to be able to provide and help the group grow. That’s difficult, but I feel like the better that I run, the more valuable my information gets, so you look at races where I didn’t run good, people aren’t going to look at my notes. They aren’t going to look at what I was fighting or how my car was, but all of a sudden at Texas, I had arguably one of the fastest cars there, so going back to Texas 1, they are going to look at the 95 car and see what setup he ran, what my comments were and stuff like that. I think it’s just the better that I run, the more valuable my input will be and our notes as a group will be.”
Toyota (NYSE:TM) has been a part of the cultural fabric in the U.S. and North America for more than 60 years, and is committed to advancing sustainable, next-generation mobility through our Toyota and Lexus brands. During that time, Toyota has created a tremendous value chain as our teams have contributed to world-class design, engineering, and assembly of more than 40 million cars and trucks in North America, where we have 14 manufacturing plants, 15 including our joint venture in Alabama (10 in the U.S.), and directly employ more than 47,000 people (over 36,000 in the U.S.). Our 1,800 North American dealerships (nearly 1,500 in the U.S.) sold nearly 2.8 million cars and trucks (nearly 2.4 million in the U.S.) in 2019.
Through the Start Your Impossible campaign, Toyota highlights the way it partners with community, civic, academic and governmental organizations to address our society’s most pressing mobility challenges. We believe that when people are free to move, anything is possible. For more information about Toyota, visit www.toyotanewsroom.com.