DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Christopher Bell wants to be the first NASCAR driver to put the new Toyota Supra in Victory Lane and he isn’t approaching the opportunity lightly.
“I remember when (Jason) Leffler won the first Xfinity race for Toyota in the Camry at IRP,” Bell said of the 2007 highlight at Indianapolis Raceway Park. “And Kyle Busch won the first Cup race in Atlanta (in ’08).”
Bell is 24 and driver of the No. 20 Toyota Supra in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. He won the Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2017 and finished fourth in the Xfinity Series title battle last season.
“I have the opportunity to be the first winner in a Toyota Supra,” Bell said. “That would be really cool and really special.”
The Supra made its NASCAR debut last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, replacing the Camry for Xfinity Series competition. Meanwhile, the Camry will continue to lead the way for Toyota in the Monster Energy Cup Series, as it has since 2007.
JGR teammate Brandon Jones finished highest among the Supra entries at Daytona with a third-place run. Bell was sixth while Jeffrey Earnhardt led 29 laps and finished 15th. Others Supra teams were scattered a bit further back in the 38-car field.
Opportunity No. 2 for win No. 1 comes this weekend as the Xfinity Series lands at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Rinnai 250 (2 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
RELATED: Full schedule for Atlanta
Daytona was an aberration in that the rules package used there won’t be seen again this year. Instead, a higher downforce platform will be in play and teams are still grappling with how those changes will affect performance.
Adding an entirely new model to the mix could be troubling – Chevrolet teams struggled with the switch to the Camaro ZL1 in the Cup Series last season, winning only four times.
Jason Ratcliff, Bell’s crew chief on the No. 20, isn’t anticipating any issues for his group, however.
“My hope is we get to Atlanta and we pick up right where we left off late last year which was running strong at the intermediate tracks, or really everywhere,” he said. “As we get more time with the Supra, I think it will be no different – it will just get better.
“We run the intermediate tracks so much more than we do speedways. I think we will have a lot better feel for the work we’ve put into it this winter and what we can expect. But so far everything looks really positive.”
- Did you know: The “S” in the Supra logo is fashioned after a section of track on the legendary Nurburgring race course in Germany known as Wehrseifen.
The Supra joins the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang in the Xfinity Series. The Camaro was incorporated into Cup competition last season, while Ford’s Cup teams made the switch this year from the Fusion to the Mustang.
Officials with Toyota say it’s not a given that the Supra will eventually become a Cup entry although they acknowledge that there is currently more room to incorporate style points into the Cup car than its Xfinity counterpart based on current rules.
“In that garage, (using) that rule book, we’re limited on what we can do,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) USA. “We put all of our expression in the upper part of the nose; the lower (portion) is common among all manufacturers. … In Cup we have essentially the whole front end we can play with and (that) gives us more latitude from a styling perspective.”
But those are concerns for another day – 2021 perhaps, when NASCAR hopes to roll out the new Gen-7 car.
Now, it’s all about the Supra making its mark in the Xfinity Series.
Having gone through the NASCAR approval process on multiple occasions made life a bit easier when it came to getting the Supra off the drawing board and onto the race track. “We’ve become very comfortable with the process,” Wilson said.
“The challenge is making sure that along the way, while we’re thrilled with having this great-looking car, that we don’t stumble out of the gate, which can be a possibility if we don’t do a good enough job.
“We talk about wanting the performance to be better each time you do this and that’s true. But the reality is, given the box all of us have to work in … it’s not that it’s better, it’s that it’s not worse than (before).
“That’s really the goal – that we get to have Supra and we’re still competitive.”
- Did You Know: The first 2020 Supra production car recently sold for $2.1 million as part of a charity effort at the Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Supra is a global car, meaning it will be sold worldwide. It may eventually race worldwide as well.
“Supra will race somewhere else,” Wilson said. “More than likely in a GT4 category, which is a global sports car class.
“Hopefully we will see it in sports car racing, but for now it’s only in NASCAR.”
And only in the Xfinity Series.
Bell, who finished third in Atlanta last year, said he is looking forward to racing the Supra beyond the high banks and long straightaways of Daytona.
“I’m really happy with how (the car) turned out,” he said. “Performance-wise I think it’s going to be right there. … We won’t really know what we’ve got until we get to some of the downforce tracks. But we’ll be in the hunt.”