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Christopher Bell: JGR success this season "comes in waves"

Christopher Bell is the latest beneficiary of the up-and-down, good one week, bad the next nature of this NASCAR Cup Series season.

Bell, who finished 20th or worse in six of the first 10 races this year, ran down the hottest driver in the series right now – Chase Elliott – to win Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The win was the first for Bell this season and he became the third (of four) Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to earn a victory.

Bell’s season has been a microcosm of JGR as a whole this year – hot one race, cold the next. The organization’s cars have speed but getting the speed, car set-ups and pit road performance to all gel in a race has been a difficult chore at times.

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“It’s been stressful. After the first couple races of the year, I kind of wrote off pointing our way into the championship,” Bell said. “Then we had a stretch of really good races and kind of turned that around to like ‘Hey, we may be able to do this,’ and then you’ve got guys that kept winning, and the (playoff) cutoff line kept creeping up and up and up.

“So, it feels really good to hopefully get myself above that cutoff line by a couple spots.”

Bell, 27, is the season’s 14th different winner this year and there still remain six races left in the regular season.

With 16 drivers making the playoffs, it’s becoming more possible with each passing week that all 16 spots could be taken by drivers with wins, leaving none to get in on points alone.

Bell’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, said with a victory in hand there is still more work to be done by the No. 20 team.

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rheem / WATTS Toyota Camry

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rheem / WATTS Toyota Camry

Photo by: David Rosenblum / NKP / Motorsport Images

“We clearly need bonus points. I think we’ve shown all year that we have probably top-five speed week-in and week-out, we just dug such a deep hole at the beginning of the season,” he said. “At one point four, five, six races in, we were like 32nd in the points.

“I think we’re somewhere around eighth right now, far enough away from the back end of the playoff qualified cars now that we don’t have to sweat that for these next few weeks. It was getting to the point with Daytona and Indy Road Course still on the schedule it was pretty clear that it was going to take a win to get in.”

Bell and JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. both ran exceptionally well at New Hampshire, with Truex leading 172 of the 301 laps. A decision by the No. 19 team to take two tires on its final pit stop left Truex with an ill-handling car on the final run.

Bell, who hadn’t led a lap in the six previous races to Sunday, was left to battle Elliott – who had won two of the three previous races – for the win.

Such has been the unpredictable nature of races this season with the Next Gen car.

“I mean, I think it’s just what organization hits it that weekend. There’s obviously a lot more Chevy and Ford teams than there are Toyota teams, so there’s a lot more opportunity for them to dominate the race than it is for us,” Bell said.

“At Atlanta – well, it’s a speedway race so I’m not going to count that. Before that, we had Road America; the JGR Toyotas have really struggled at road courses this year. Then if you look back at Nashville we were one of the best groups, probably the best group.

“It just comes in waves, and there are race tracks we’re good at and race tracks we’re not good at yet.”

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