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August 1, 2018

Christopher Bell

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today in advance of this weekend's events at Watkins Glen International. We are now joined by NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender Christopher Bell, driver of the No.20 Rheem Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. With a win in Saturday's Zippo 200, Bell would tie Sam Ard's series record for four consecutive wins set in 1983. In another visit to Victory Lane, he would also tie the Xfinity Series record for wins by a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate. Bell would join Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle with five rookie wins.
Christopher, thanks for spending time with us this afternoon. You've had a few wins this season with your most recent one coming this past weekend in Iowa. What's going through your mind as you get ready to take on the first road course of the season this weekend?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Just trying to get prepared as get as prepared as I can be going into a racetrack where I've never been before, not only a racetrack that I've never been before, but going road racing, which is something that I haven't had the most success at in the world. Just trying to prepare for that and do as much homework as I can to try and get a good result this weekend.

Q. Chris, this morning Joe Gibbs said on a Sirius XM NASCAR radio that they have to keep you in the future. What does it mean for you at this point in your career to have someone with that much visibility in NASCAR that wants to be a part of your future and wants you to be part of their future at JGR and Toyota?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, it's a dream come true, really, A, to be driving for the coach himself, and B, to have him talking so highly of me and saying that he wants me to be a part of their organization going forward is‑‑ you know, it's a dream come true. I never would have pictured myself racing in NASCAR, and now I'm racing in one of the top levels of NASCAR for one of the top organizations in the sport.
It really is a dream come true.

Q. I want to go back in time a little bit, and we're talking about the wins this year, but what did that win last year in Kansas, your first Xfinity win, what did that do for you? It was a pretty exciting finish and maybe even a little dicey with your teammate, but what did that race do for you in Kansas last year?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, Kansas was a huge proving point to myself as a driver and to Joe Gibbs Racing as an organization. Whenever you step into these positions and you start driving for these great teams, your cars are really fast, and you're expected to run up front. So my first couple races I went to Charlotte, I'm pretty sure I ran fourth or‑‑ I know it was in the top 5. And then I went to a couple other places and ran good, like top 5, but there's a big difference between running top 5 and winning races. And I feel like Kansas was a statement that I can win races, and that's something that I pride myself on is the ability to win races. There's a lot of guys out there that can lead laps or can run second, third all the time, but winning, it's definitely different, and so that's something that I pride myself on being able to win races, and Kansas was a proving point of that.

Q. That overtaking Erik at the end, what do you remember about that?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I remember it was pretty awesome. It was pretty much exactly how I planned it. I was disappointed that Erik decided to run into the back of me instead of turn down and try and pass me back, but it worked out perfect where I got the big run off of Turn 2 and was able to clear him going into Turn 3. I was really happy with how my move worked out, and like I said, I'm disappointed that Erik decided to play his cards the way that he did. But I thought my move was perfect.

Q. You had two good runs in the Truck Series, a couple fourth places and a pole. Is Kansas just kind of a place that you're real comfortable with, and how helpful will that be during the playoffs where Kansas will be part of your playoffs, too, and other likewise mile‑and‑a‑half tracks?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, well, mile‑and‑a‑halfs in general seem to be where we're our best, especially me as a driver, where I'm my best at. And Kansas is a place that you can‑‑ it seems fairly easy to get around. Like it's fairly new pavement, and there's a lot of grip. It's got really nice, progressive banking. It's really smooth. So it's just a fun place to race at, and it's a place that you can race hard because there's a decent amount of grip, you can run different lanes there now. So it's just a fun place to race, and I've enjoyed going there, and my results are just because I drive fast race cars. So that's always a help, whenever you get to drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. If I wasn't driving for them, I definitely wouldn't have the results that I have. But yeah, so that's that.

Q. I notice you're from Norman, Oklahoma. Is that where you grew up? Are you a Sooner fan or from this part of the country, or what's your background from Norman?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: So Norman is my hometown. I lived there for the first 16 years of my life, and since I moved out, whenever I was 16, I haven't been back since. But I used to be a die‑hard Sooner fan whenever I lived there, and now that I've moved away, I haven't really followed the Sooner sports too close. But yeah, I used to be a die‑hard.

Q. Let's assume you keep on winning; are you fully on board with whatever Toyota and JGR is planning for you next year? Would you listen to another team if they offered something in the Cup Series?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, I hope I keep winning. I'll start with that. But this sport is funny, and you never know when your last win is going to be. Iowa could have been my last win, and I'm going to try hard to keep that‑‑ to not let that happen.
Moving forward, I have every intention of staying with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. I mentioned before that I feel like they're the best organization in NASCAR, and they've put a lot into me, and Toyota was the one that really‑‑ they're the reason why I'm here. I would love to stay with them, and hopefully it works out in the future.

Q. Have you had a chance to survey the dirt track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the midget race? And if you have, how do you think that's going to race?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I actually have not. I've seen a couple pictures on the internet, but it's hard to tell by pictures. I don't expect to know what we're going to have until we start hot lapping on whatever it is, the 5th. But I hope to see you there.

Q. Just curious if there's any stat that is important to you as far as like either you're going for your fourth win in a row? Is there any stat that you think about maybe like, wow, that would be really cool to accomplish?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, that's a good question. For me, the only stat that matters are wins, race wins. That's the only thing that I care about and for the most part I feel like that's the only thing the teams care about, if you're a winner or if you're a loser. Unfortunately in this sport, second place is losing. Just that win column, man, that's the only thing that matters to me.
Going for four in a row would obviously be huge, but obviously it's going to be a tall order to win four in a row going to a road course that I've never been before with guys that are racing that have a ton of experience there. I'm not going to be heartbroken if I don't win my fourth race‑‑ I'm not going to be heartbroken if I don't win four in a row, but I will be heartbroken if I don't win five races this year. So that's the only stat that matters to me are those race wins.

Q. You're saying five races this year because you already have four?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, so I'd better be able to win one more with‑‑ I think we've got 15 left or something. You're only as good as your last race, and that's something that I've been preached to since I got into this sport, and it definitely turns out true. You're only as good as your last race. Hopefully I can continue to win the rest of this year and prove that I deserve to be here.

Q. I know you probably say you want to win 33 races a year, but what would like going into an Xfinity season, what would be maybe an acceptable number of wins for you?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, that's tough to say. I do know whenever I was going into Daytona in July, that's kind of the halfway point, and I'd only had one win at that point, and that was pretty disheartening. But luckily I've had fast race cars and I've won a couple more, so just past halfway where I've won four. I'm really happy with where I'm at.
I think we have a lot of opportunities to win going into the playoffs, and there's a lot‑‑ we go to a lot of great racetracks for myself and our company. If we could win‑‑ my goal would be six, and I think I'll be disappointed if I don't reach six.

Q. Regarding Joe Gibbs' comments on Sirius XM, what have the conversations been like with Joe specifically regarding your eventual move to the Cup Series, and do you have any idea of a timeline of when you expect that to happen?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, the interesting part about that is I honestly haven't had much dealings with Coach himself. I haven't talked to him outside of on the phone in Victory Lane or at the racetrack right before I get in the race car on the grid. I haven't dealt with Coach much at all in my time in his organization. So as far as going into Cup, obviously there's no hole right now, so that's the biggest problem. And then the second biggest problem is money; where does the money come from, and who wants to‑‑ where does the money come from?
So right now, that's not in my hands. The only thing that is in my hands is a steering wheel, and hopefully I can continue to win races with that steering wheel.

Q. When you're on a roll like this with three wins and you seem like you've got a ton of momentum, it all has to be pretty exciting and pumped up, so how do you keep your team humble but also not complacent to keep going?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, that's one thing that I love about this sport is just seeing how excited your team members get when you win. Pulling into Victory Lane and celebrating and seeing the smiles on all your guys is something that‑‑ it's just a feeling that you can't replace and you can't duplicate.
For them, each win just continues to help build their morale, and it seems like each time you win, you get faster race cars every single week because they are motivated to go back to Victory Lane.
You know, these guys at Joe Gibbs Racing have obviously won several times before me, and they'll win several times after me, so they've got a pretty good head on their shoulders.

Q. A couple of things that you've touched on a little bit; you mentioned this weekend's race at Watkins Glen in your opening. Is there something specific that's difficult about racing on a road course for you, or is it just a lack of experience in general that you feel like is your biggest hurdle you have to overcome right now?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, definitely the lack of experience is huge, but for me in my past, shifting has been extremely difficult going into road course races. I don't know if I've had a road course weekend where I haven't blown a motor yet by missing a downshift or missing an upshift and accidentally downshifting. So that's the number one goal is to get through the weekend without blowing a motor.
But yeah, it's just so opposite of everything that I've done in my past, but I've really enjoyed the road races that I've done, especially at Canada. I feel like I've been fairly competitive up there. The only thing that's hindering my confidence right now is just the fact that I was so awful at Road America last year. I really struggled at Road America last year, and that's the only reason that I don't feel like I could compete for the win this week.

Q. You talked about the association with Joe Gibbs Racing and also the Toyota development program; where do you think you would be today without that Toyota association? How much have they helped you progress and get to where you are today?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I mean, you never really know for sure, but I believe if it wasn't for Toyota and their development program, I would probably be running either the All‑Star sprint cars or maybe the Outlaws. But definitely nowhere in stock car racing or pavement racing. It's cool to see how they've been able to spike or start the careers of Larson and myself, and Erik Jones obviously did the Toyota development program, as well. It's really cool to see that, and I'm very thankful for that, because I definitely would not be in stock cars or NASCAR for that matter.

Q. Is there anything specific that you can think of that they've done that maybe surprised you and maybe moved you along a little quicker or helped you out?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, one thing that they've been really good at is every step along the way, they've told me I'm going to get X, and then I get X plus five or whatever that number is. But I remember whenever we first did our development deal in 2014, I believe‑‑ actually it was 2015. When we first did our deal in 2015, they said, okay, we're going late model racing, and I said, okay, and they gave me a schedule of 20 late model races, and then next thing you know, mid‑June they're like, hey, you want to go truck racing? So I ended up getting 20 late model races and then I think five truck races. And then the next step, I went full‑time truck racing, and then the second year there, I'm going full‑time truck racing again, and come mid‑March or mid‑April, they're like, oh, hey, by the way, we got you a couple Xfinity races. So they've always done more than what they've told me, and that's something that I'm thankful for.

Q. You mentioned road courses, and I just want to piggy back on that. You're going to be at Mid‑Ohio the next couple weekends, so after the Glen, you've got Mid‑Ohio, which is going to be two road courses in a row. I know you're worried about shifting, but what are you worried about with two road courses in a row there?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, the biggest thing that I'm worried about right now going into the road course season is points. Allgaier is an excellent road racer. Daniel Hemric does a really good job on the road courses. So there's a lot of guys that I'm in a really tight points battle with that are really good road racers, and unfortunately for me, I don't have that star by my name that says I'm a really good road racer.
So luckily with the stages, the way that the strategy works out, I feel like the guys that are competing for wins will pit before the stage ends, and that'll open up some stage points for us if I'm not up to speed and I'm not competing for the win. So that should help us a little bit. But definitely the points are what I'm worried about going into these road courses.

Q. Have you ever been to Mid‑Ohio?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I've never been there. I've been to‑‑ sorry, I've been to Mid‑Ohio, but I've never been to the racetrack.

Q. Have you done any research on it or anything to kind of prepare you for that?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I actually‑‑ aside from watching races there, not really. After we get through Watkins Glen, I'm going to be hitting iRacing really hard to get all the laps that I can there. I think it's really important while I'm in the road course season to not get ahead of myself and start confusing myself by running multiple road courses at the same time.
Right now I've been focusing all on Watkins Glen, and then once I get through that, I'll definitely be on iRacing a lot trying to get laps at Mid‑Ohio.

Q. With such a strong season already, how often do you find yourself looking forward at those tracks that comprise the playoffs? You talked a little bit about it several questions ago, you obviously look forward to the mile‑and‑a‑halfs, but there are tracks that you're really looking forward to in the playoffs, and similar to the road courses, is there something you think is going to be the biggest challenge for you in the playoffs?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, so the biggest thing throughout the regular season is just trying to get those bonus points. Last year in my championship truck year, we were able to win five races and the regular season points, and that gave us enough bonus points to where it almost made the playoffs stress free all the way to Homestead. So that's our No.1 goal right now. I think we've done a really good job accumulating the bonus points so far, but man, going into the‑‑ especially round 1 with the Roval in there, it's going to be really easy to throw away a race right there at round 1 at the Roval.
There's a lot of great racetracks for us aside from the Roval, like I think round 1 is Richmond and Dover, so those are two racetracks that we very well could win at, and hopefully we're able to win our way through the playoffs because, like I told Bob earlier, the wins, that's the stat that matters to me personally and really to the company, as well.
Hopefully we can win our way through the playoffs at the racetracks that we succeed at, and then we don't have to worry about the Roval.

Q. You have the opportunity to tie Sam Ard with consecutive wins and also tie Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards for the most rookie wins in a season with five. What does it mean to you to be able to tie those guys and possibly surpass them going into the next few races?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, it's really, really cool to see the list of drivers that have won five races, and sitting here‑‑ like I said, sitting here with just past halfway with four wins, I have a great opportunity to get five, and I think we have a great opportunity to get six or even more throughout the course of the year. It would be really special to join that elite group of race car drivers that have won five, and I've got the best team in the business to go out and try and do it.

Q. I was talking to deSouza earlier who runs the Xfinity program, and Steve deSouza said that you were set for an Xfinity program for next year. Do you know what you're set for next year, and would that be something you think you need? A lot of people are willing you into a Cup ride real quickly. What do you think you would need if you could kind of pick out your own destiny?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Wow, that's a good question. Going into next season, I am set for another year of Xfinity, and there are no holes in the Cup side, so that's what makes it difficult. But as far as what I need, honestly I don't feel like I need another year of Xfinity. I think the best way for me to win at the Cup level is to get there and start trying at it.
You know, I feel like I'm different than the guys that have been coming up here over the last couple years, and everyone is saying that they're moving guys up too quick, and the difference is that I'm 23 years old, I'm not 18, 19 or even 20 years old. I've got a lot of racing experience, and right now I feel like I'm in my prime as a race car driver. If the opportunity comes to go Cup racing next year, I definitely don't want to waste another year in my prime, so to speak, of not learning and not getting that experience of Cup racing.

Q. So if there is no hole and if you do race Xfinity but you're ready to go, how will you temper that? How will you not be frustrated with that, because you say you want to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing and everybody knows you have the talent. So it's very interesting, if you do have to stay, are you just going to be patient about it? Is that what you have to do?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, and the biggest thing is I've learned throughout my years, and especially in NASCAR, is you are only as good as the race car that you sit in. Right now I'm at the best organization that I can be at, so I wouldn't want to go anywhere else, honestly. Even if the Cup deal doesn't work out for next year, which it looks like it's not going to, I'm still going to be sitting in a really fast race car at a level in motorsports where I never really dreamed I'd be at. So I'm going to be thrilled either way.
But I definitely‑‑ like I said, I'm 23 years old. I feel like I'm at my prime, and I don't want to waste another year if the opportunity comes to make the jump.

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