Christopher Bell hasn’t strapped into a race car since the NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway in November, in a change from previous years. But it’s been for good reason.
While he prepares to battle for his fourth Chili Bowl Nationals title in January in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bell has pushed aside his usual dirt racing adventures to focus on getting acclimated to his new No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team. The 2021 season will be the sophomore driver’s first with the organization after spending his rookie year with now shuttered Leavine Family Racing.
Accompanying the various changes for Bell will be a new crew chief in Adam Stevens. The switch-up will also be a significant adjustment for Stevens, who has spent his entire Cup Series career atop the pit box for two-time series champion Kyle Busch, save for a handful of fill-in starts for drivers subbing for an injured “Rowdy” in 2015.
The biggest change Bell offers for Stevens is a more mild-mannered approach when it comes to in-car communications. The major differences between Bell and Busch in that category were a topic of conversation during their first meeting together.
“I said I can promise you I’m going to be a change of pace from Kyle because my demeanor inside the car is a lot different than what Kyle’s is and you’re not going to hear me yelling and screaming or voicing my opinion the way Kyle does,” Bell said during a Zoom call on Thursday. “Obviously, he’s a very proven race car driver and he knows what he wants, and he can kind of lead the team like that, where me on the other hand, I need the crew chief to lead the team and I’ll be a different way about it.”
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The second-year driver admitted Busch is more likely to take charge over the radio than he is at this point in his young career, which is to be expected. Bell hopes Stevens can take the reins of the No. 20 team, which sparked a particular memory for Bell involving communication between Busch and Stevens during a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway years ago.
“Kyle was having a rough day, he got some damage and Adam had a quote — ‘You focus on driving the car, let me focus on fixing the car and shut up’ … something along those lines,” Bell recalled. “That’s how their relationship was. Adam was very fiery and very stern, and Kyle was the exact same. He would fire right back at Adam.”
While Stevens will likely modify his communications with his new driver compared to Busch, there will be some familiar faces surrounding the championship crew chief. Confirmed by Bell, Stevens is bringing all the mechanics from the No. 18 team, except for the car chief. Busch was able to keep his pit crew intact, which means Stevens will work with a new set of over-the-wall crew members on the No. 20 team.
With the season-opening Daytona 500 fewer than two months away, Bell promises he’ll bring a variety of communication styles compared to his fellow teammates.
“It seems like the team is ready for a new start and to do something different,” Bell said. “I can promise you Christopher Bell is going to be a lot of different than what Kyle Busch was. … I’m not going to voice my opinion the way Kyle, Martin, Denny or whoever the drivers are. I’m very soft-spoken. That’s just not going to be who I am. I’m not going to be that demeanor.”