Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of four stories examining why each Championship 4 driver could win the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship. For more on Bell and the Championship 4, tune in to “Race for the Championship” docuseries at 10 p.m. ET Thursday on USA Network or set your DVRs.
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Christopher Bell will win the 2022 championship because …
… he’s becoming the new “Closer” right before our eyes.
Sure, Kevin Harvick is still racing and should make a competitive run again next season in what could potentially be his final year, but he might as well hand the nickname — he’s got more than plenty to share, anyway — over to Bell before he eventually hangs up the fire suit.
What the No. 20 driver accomplished just in order to reach the Championship 4 was enough to hang a season on in itself, winning with his back against the wall and facing elimination twice on two different tracks that could not be more different. There’s no way this team feels like it’s playing with house money, however, and with Phoenix being essentially the same do-or-die scenario who’s to say they can’t make it three-for-three? One could even argue that his task at Phoenix, while obviously massive, is simpler because the goal is clear: finish ahead of three particular cars, not the entire field. Twice.
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Time will tell if the “clutch” gene runs deep in Bell’s DNA, but for now it sure appears it does. The Oklahoma native and sprint racing star has won all different types of races on all different types of stages, many of which were the top of the top in those respective disciplines. While it’s his first Championship 4, the spotlight doesn’t seem to faze him one way or the other — and let’s not forget he has four other title race appearances in the other two national series, taking home the Truck Series championship in 2017.
Bell’s 2022 season has been at times head-scratching, coming out of the gate with six finishes of 20th or worse through the first 10 races, with a postseason appearance anything but a guarantee as late as July. Things turned a corner with his key Loudon victory over the summer, though, and since then he’s turned in another seven top fives and two playoff victories.
The 27-year-old was adamant all season that his early hiccups were essentially all circumstantial and that his No. 20 Toyota Camry was fast enough to win races. Well, he obviously proved that to be true, but to further the point — Bell tied his fellow dirt maven Kyle Larson for the series lead in poles (four) this year, after never having won one previously. He’s also led the most laps of any Championship 4 driver in the playoffs with 311. No other contender has more than 140, and he’s the only one with two postseason wins and five top fives through the first nine races.
And we haven’t even talked about the guy on top of the box yet.
Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens felt like a fixture in the Championship 4 during his years guiding Kyle Busch to a pair of titles, racing for the championship together five straight seasons from 2015-19 before parting ways after 2020. This could be the start of a new dynasty if this lethal pairing continues to be as formidable as it appears, and Bell might be championed as the face of Toyota from here if he wins it all.
Looking to become the first No. 20 driver to win a title for JGR since Tony Stewart’s 2005 triumph, Bell would also be the youngest — and only one under 30 — to do it for the championship organization as well. Given he’s won two of the past four races and has all the momentum in the world, the pieces are there.
Just has to close the deal.