Toyota Racing – Christopher Bell
NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS)
ISM Raceway – March 8, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell was made available to the media at ISM Raceway:
CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 20 Rheem Toyota Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing
Do you expect to be as strong this weekend as you were in the fall?
“We were exceptional in the fall so hopefully that means that the setup relates. We’re on a different tire here so we’re not expecting to just copy and paste our setup from the fall race to now. Hopefully we have a good starting point.”
What is this race like with the fan experience and the pits so close to the fan area?
“It’s really cool and thankfully I was the first driver to get to roll into the new victory lane. That was absolutely amazing to see all the fans get to experience victory lane and be part of the celebration with you. I know if I was a kid and got to be a part of victory lane, that would have been a life-changing experience so hopefully there’s a lot of kids that I get to see if I win or anyone else wins down there celebrating with the drivers.”
Where does what you did here last November rank amongst your accomplishments?
“I would say it’s definitely P1 on my NASCAR career, to be able to be put in that situation and to be able to win was really, really – it says a lot about my team. As a NASCAR race car driver especially, not just a race driver, but a NASCAR race driver because you’re only as good as your race car. To come here in a must-win situation and have a car as good as I did in November was really, really cool. It says a lot for my guys, they put a lot of effort into bringing a really, really fast Rheem Camry – actually it was a GameStop Camry back then and hopefully we have a Rheem Supra for this weekend and can compete for the win.”
Is there a different feeling this weekend compared to the pressure of that weekend in November?
“The mindset is a little bit different. Even whenever I go back and watch the film, November Phoenix versus March Phoenix is a totally different atmosphere. The November Phoenix, you can almost feel the atmosphere and feel the pressure even by watching the broadcast and you can tell how much is on the line. We’re just getting started in the season here in March so it’s really just building that notebook to make sure that you’re exceptional whenever you come back in the fall.”
Do you still look back at last week as a fun race?
“That was a ton of fun. To be able to race (Tyler) Reddick like that and chase Kyle (Busch), I just want to prove myself right. I just want to prove that I’m good. How do you do that? You have to run with the best and Kyle, to be able to race with Kyle and us three were light years ahead of everyone else so that was really cool.”
Do Xfinity drivers have to wheel the cars more than the Cup drivers?
“Last week at Las Vegas, I think that’s probably due to the fact that we have less downforce now. Last year at Homestead, I think our downforce levels were pretty similar and they had more horsepower so I don’t know why that would have been the case there, but definitely last weekend at Las Vegas, we’re not as stuck to the ground as those guys are.”
Does ISM Raceway suit your driving style?
“Seems to be that way right? I’ve had a pretty good track record here, but what’s really cool about that is if you ask me what my driving style is, I wouldn’t say that Phoenix really suits my driving style, but I think that really goes to show how good of a race car Joe Gibbs Racing brings to this place. It seems like whoever gets in these things goes really good. I would say my style is a little bit more mile-and-a-half, move around, run the top type of deal. Not really a short track at Phoenix, but I have gone really good here so that makes me feel good.”
Have you talked with Kyle Busch after last week’s race?
“Yeah, he shot me a text after the race so that was pretty cool to be able to share a laugh with him and hopefully I’ll be laughing a little bit more this week.”
Did you learn from Kyle Busch last week?
“I learned I’m close so that makes me feel good. It was a lot of fun being able to race with him and I felt like I was maybe a little faster than him at the end of the race. Just have to tidy up a couple things and hopefully we can be there at the end of this one.”
Are you a good restart driver?
“No, I struggle on restarts for whatever reason. You get stalled by side drafts so much that I don’t think defensively enough I think is my problem. Especially last weekend at Las Vegas because I was trying to be offense, offense, offense and guys kept putting me three wide and putting me in – just dragging me back. Here, the restarts are so hectic because the track has the dogleg and the restart is right before the dogleg. If you start on the inside you can shortcut that dogleg and it’s pretty easy to get inside of the guy in front of you.”
Do you think this will be a crazier race with a short track feeling?
“Absolutely, the restarts are just so tough here because it’s so easy to make a move on the guy in front of you so you have to be pretty much on offense all the time and hopefully you don’t get to be the guy caught in the middle.”
Are you an aggressive driver?
“I don’t know, I would be interested to see what other drivers would say about that. I feel like I try and race smart instead of overly aggressive I try to race smart. You have to be aggressive on the restarts here otherwise you’re going to get swallowed up.”
Do you enjoy racing here?
“I do, I really enjoy this place because it’s really smooth, you have a lot of options in turns one and two now with the way the apron is you can either hook the apron or run on the apron and sometimes the top will get going. It’s a fun race.”
What would it mean to beat Kyle Busch in the race Saturday?
“It would be cool and it would mean that I have won two of them this year so far. I think I have a good shot at it, as good of a shot as anybody. Just have to go out there and see how it plays out.”
How would you summarize the first month of the season?
“It’s been really good, it’s the best I’ve started off my NASCAR career thus far so that’s a good start and hopefully I can continue to improve and make good strides and win some races. I feel like last week we were really close to another win and let one get away. I don’t plan on letting another one get away this weekend.”
What makes Kyle Busch such a great driver?
“I think the biggest thing is just his feel. He’s got tremendous feel of how hard you can get into the corner and how hard to get off the corner. Just maximizing his race car, that’s one thing that I’ve really talked about with Jason Ratcliff (crew chief) is the elite Cup drivers – Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski – whenever they go back and run the Xfinity cars, they are always fast. Every single time they get in a car, they’re the favorite to win. You know their car isn’t driving perfectly every time they get in a car, but yet they’re the car to beat. I just need to get to that point to where I’m capable of winning every single week where even the weeks that my car isn’t perfect, I’m still able to overcome that and do what Kyle Busch does in a race car.”
What is the disadvantage of being up front here at ISM Raceway on a restart?
“Whenver you’re up front, the guys behind you can always roll momentum on you, which at some race tracks it’s no big deal because they have nowhere you go. As soon as you cross that start-finish line, you have a football field and a half of room that you just can’t block all that room. If they have momentum on you, it’s really easy for them to get side-by-side with you and make a move on you. That’s what the fans love, that’s for sure.”
Where would you rather start?
“I think being third is probably the most ideal location because you’re on the inside and you can use the dogleg. I think third is a pretty good spot to be on a restart here.”
Is there an advantage to starting near the front?
“Absolutely, track position is really, really big especially once you get strung out so if you restart third, I think you have a pretty good shot to get the lead, but being out front is always going to be king.”
How do you find the feel of your car today with the strong winds?
“The wind is definitely going to be interesting to see how that effects the cars. The biggest thing for us is probably going to be the different tire that we’re running compared to last year. Obviously, we had a pretty good setup here last year when we were able to win the fall race. Hopefully that relates to what we have going on this weekend and we can put this Rheem Supra up front and maybe in victory lane. Just working through that new tire and get it as close as we can for tomorrow.”
Is there any unfinished business for you in the Xfinity Series other than a championship?
“No, not entirely. Obviously a championship would be really, really nice and ideal, but you just get race tracks that you want to win at. If I could win at Bristol and Darlington, those would be the two that I have circled this year – and Indy, I would like to win at Indy too.”