Christopher Bell: 2020 was ‘definitely a down year for JGR’

Christopher Bell previews the 2021 season as he finds himself in a new car with a different crew chief, searching for his first victory in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Bell spent his rookie season with Leavine Family Racing before being promoted to JGR after the team ceased operations.

He will be paired with crew chief Adam Stevens, who served atop the pit box for Kyle Busch for the past five years. The duo won the Cup Series championship in both 2015 and 2019, but a change was made after a lackluster 2020 season.

“I think if you look at 2020 as a whole, it was definitely a down year for JGR, compared to what 2019 was,” admitted Bell. “2019 was stellar. The 19, the 18 and the 11 were all in the final four. The 20 car won one or two races. That was a really good year, and then 2020 was definitely different. Martin (Truex) won Martinsville, and Denny (Hamlin) pretty much carried the banner, winning the majority of the races, and the 18 and the 20 had off years. I don’t expect 2021 to be like 2020.

“I think that Joe Gibbs Racing is obviously a power house team and they are focused on getting back to where they were in 2019. But yeah, you just look at how the races played out in 2020 and Kyle (Busch) had multiple opportunities where he could have won, it just didn’t work out for him. You will have that, so ultimately if we just keep putting ourselves in position and we are competitive enough, and we are fast enough, we have a good pit crew, we execute races and don’t make mistakes, that’s all we can ask for. Whether we win one time or we win eight times, just being competitive is the main goal.”

Bell has spent “a lot of time” with Stevens ahead of the 2021 season in order to “get more comfortable with each another.” 

He continued: “It’s been good so far. I would say we have a little ways to go, but that always gets sped up once you start racing because you are right in the thick of things and you are dealing with each other more on a business level. Whenever I go to the shop today, it’s not like there is cars sitting there that I can go sit in and start getting comfortable in. This part of the offseason is pretty slow for us right now, not a lot going on. So, a lot of hanging out and getting to know each other. I feel like I’ve put in a lot of effort to be around Adam more and hopefully, we can start off good whenever we get back to racing.”

The 26-year-old had hoped to win a race in 2020, but it just didn’t come to fruition. He did earn two top-fives and seven top-tens in his rookie campaign however, ending the season 20th in the championship standings. One thing that surprised the 16-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner about the Cup level was the depth of talent within the field.

“Everyone can sit here and tell you that it’s a lot – I don’t know what the right word is. I knew that the field was tougher. I knew there was a lot more capable drivers and cars, but just getting a feel for the depth of the series – that’s something that nobody can really prepare you for,” explained Bell.

“My eye opener was Vegas 1 of last year, what I call the first race of the year outside of Daytona. I expected to have a top-15 day, maybe compete for a top-10. Vegas is a good track for me as a race car driver. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), I believe won there with Martin Truex at the end of 2019. All of their cars were really good at the end of 2019, so I expect to, as I said, have a top-15 day, maybe compete for a top-10 and we go to Vegas 1 and I was running outside of the top-20 then I look up in front of me and Denny (Hamlin), Kyle (Busch), Erik (Jones) – I think Martin had a pretty good day – but Denny, Kyle and Erik were outside of the top-15, a couple of cars in front of me. That was eye opening, like wow, it’s pretty easy to be outside of the top-15 and for me, it was easy to be outside of the top-20. I didn’t expect the depth that the Cup Series actually has.”

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