Christopher Bell was reflective by the time he rolled into NASCAR Champion’s Week festivities in Nashville last month. The Music City greeted him just more than three weeks after his title hopes ended early in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, a brake failure precipitating a race-ending crash in Stage 2.
That early exit still stung weeks later, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates could commiserate after their own troubles in the Cup Series Playoffs. But Bell seemed to indicate that he’d made peace with the hand that cruel fate had dealt him and his No. 20 Toyota team at Phoenix, taking solace in his season-long strength.
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“I mean, it was certainly disappointing, but it is what it is,” Bell said before the NASCAR Awards gala. “Denny Hamlin had a steering failure at Homestead that probably took him out of it, Martin Truex (Jr.) had an engine failure at Homestead that probably took him out of it, and that’s just in my group. I’m sure that everyone has those problems that have hindered them, and unfortunately mine came in the championship race. But it just wasn’t meant to be and I’m OK with that. Hopefully my time will come.”
Bell can take heart in the fact that he is the only Cup Series driver to make the postseason’s Championship 4 cut the last two seasons. The 29-year-old netted victories on the dirt surface at Bristol in a nod to his racing upbringing, and he added a title-berth clincher with a clutch performance at Homestead-Miami in the postseason’s Round of 8.
Bell set a career-high mark with six pole positions, and four of those arrived in the 10-race playoffs. But the Oklahoma native also said that the potential for registering more wins was there, as he finished second or third five times in the 2023 campaign.
“I definitely feel like there is unfinished business and you know what, regardless of if we won the championship or not, I would have felt that way, just because we left so many races on the table that could have had top five, top threes, possibly wins,” Bell said. “And so I left Phoenix feeling very calm, and I was looking forward to what what’s ahead of us. So I feel good. I feel really good, and I love my team, and I think that we have not reached our ceiling yet, so that gives me confidence.”