By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Christopher Bell is a prime example of the success that the Toyota Racing’s Driver Development program. Prior to the 2014 season, Bell’s career had exclusively been confined to dirt track racing.
When Bell, driver of the No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry, entered the Toyota pipeline, he quickly advanced up the ladder. By the end of 2015, he was competing in a Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck. Bell went on to win the 2017 Truck Series Championship along with seven victories. Now, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver leads the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Points Standings with four wins this season.
Toyota Racing’s Driver Development program is extensive, stretching from the NASCAR Xfinity Series down to the dirt tracks. In addition to Bell, Chase Purdy, Hailee Deegan, Harrison Burton, Logan Seavey, Natalie Decker, Noah Gragson, Todd Gilliland, and Zane Smith are all in the program. Other than the Truck Series and K&N Pro West, drivers in Toyota’s program lead the Championship Points Standings in their respective series.
“What’s really cool is that you – especially on the dirt side between (Kyle) Larson and myself and now Logan Seavey has run a truck race – you get all of these kids that are in the lower forms of motorsports and there for a while it kind of seemed hopeless to get to NASCAR and now that avenue is open,” Bell explained. “It’s open and everyone sees it. Every kid talks about Toyota. That’s where they want to be.
“They want to be part of the Toyota driver development program, so it’s really special to see that and see how everybody wants to be there. That seems to be the clearest way to get up to our level right now and they’re really doing a great job of that.”
The transition from the dirt tracks to asphalt stockcar racing that was once difficult is now open for drivers with much more diverse racing backgrounds to enter NASCAR. Toyota Racing’s only problem may be where their many drivers will end up with currently just five teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.