By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: Rookie
Career Wins: Seven Truck Series wins, 16 Xfinity Series wins
Accomplishments: 2017 Truck Series championship
Welcome to the big show, Christopher Bell.
After working his way through the Toyota driver development pipeline over the past five years, the Norman, Oklahoma native finally gets his shot in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020, taking over the No. 95 Toyota at Leavine Family Racing.
Bell started his NASCAR career in 2015 running part-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series before transitioning to a full-time slate in 2016 and 2017. During his time in the series, he won seven races and took home the 2017 championship.
The following year, Bell moved up to the Xfinity Series full-time with Joe Gibbs Racing after running part-time during his 2017 Truck Series championship season. Once again, the 25-year old found himself competing for wins and championships right out of the gate. During his time in the Xfinity Series, he won 16 races and made the Championship 4 twice, but fell short of adding another championship to his trophy case.
With LFR having a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Bell ready to make the leap to NASCAR’s top division, the No. 95 car became the logical place for him to land and in late September it was made official that Bell would be a Cup Series driver starting in 2020.
“It’s the pinnacle of motorsports in the United States of America,” Bell said of the opportunity to drive in the Cup Series. “If you talk to anybody, any kid, their dream, if they dream of racing, is to run in the Cup Series in NASCAR. It’s a dream come true for me.
“Whenever I was a kid in Oklahoma and I started dirt track racing, I didn’t see how it was possible to get there just because I was a dirt track driver and that’s all I knew. I honestly didn’t think it was possible to get to the Cup Series and now here I am today and it’s just, it’s pretty surreal.”
In the team’s first season in their technical alliance with JGR, they took a big step forward with the driver/crew chief combo of Matt DiBenedetto and Mike Wheeler working together. Wheeler remains with the team in 2020, but has moved to the role of Competition Director.
Jason Ratcliff, who worked with Bell throughout his time in the Xfinity Series, will move up to the Cup Series with him in 2020. When his advancement to the Cup Series was announced last year, Bell noted that having Ratcliff atop the pit box would be a huge asset.
“I’m really, really excited about making the next step here at LFR (Leavine Family Racing) and I’m hoping that we can get it kicked off on the right foot,” Bell said. “I think having Jason along beside me is going to be a huge; it’s going to be a really big advantage having Jason with me.
“He’s a great crew chief. He’s got a lot of experience with veteran drivers and we got to start our communication process in the Xfinity Series together, so there’s nobody else I’d rather go with than him.”
All the pieces are in place for Bell to be able to hit the ground running when the green flag flies at Daytona next month. The only question is how well and how fast will the dirt track ace be able to adapt to the Cup Series car, which is a completely different animal that the vehicles he has driven in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series.
Nonetheless, the Rookie of the Year battle between Bell, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, and John Hunter Nemechek should be a fun one to follow throughout the year.