Christopher Bell’s numbers tell a distinct and impressive story. In the three rungs on the stock car ladder beneath the Cup series, he has earned top-10s in 69.4% of his starts. In the second series, he has 46 top-10s in 74 races (62.2%).
Of course, there are a couple of things that will modify those stats in 2020: The competition at the Cup level is light years ahead of the Xfinity series – especially with NASCAR’s limitation on senior drivers in the junior series – and he is not going to be in a car that is generally considered the most powerful in the series.
Bell is going to have to learn to drive a new way.
In 2020, he will find that if he makes a mistake, the car is not going to carry him to the front. He will have to meticulously pick his way through traffic. He will have to use his head in addition to his right foot. And he’s going to have to rely on his pit crew and trust his lead mechanic.
The No. 95 Leavine Family team is going to be stronger in 2020 than they ever were before, but it is unreasonable to expect them to live up to the standards set by Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). Even if the parent organization pumps the same amount of resource into Bell’s effort as they do for Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Erik Jones, this would essentially be a fifth JGR car and subject to the limitations of stretching that organization so thin.
The two biggest considerations this season when handicapping Bell will be how the No. 95 team and Matt DiBenedetto fared last year and how Jones ran as a rookie in the satellite No. 77 team in 2017.
The No. 95 team has been progressively improving for many years. Scott Speed gave them their first top-10 (on a plate track) in 2013. Michael McDowell recorded some solid results after taking over the ride in 2014 including their first unrestricted top-10 at Homestead in 2016. Slowly but surely, McDowell started to improve their average race finish.
It was McDowell’s stewardship of the team that allowed them to attract Kasey Kahne in 2018. His tenure with the team was shortened by a medical condition, but the No. 95 continued to improve that year. In 2019 we expected a lot from DiBenedetto. It took a while for the team to execute, but they started to crank out great finishes beginning with a fourth at Sonoma in Week 16.
DiBenedetto earned three top-fives and seven top-10s. All of them came in the final 21 races of the year, which gives them momentum for 2020.
The No. 95 should be even stronger with JGR resources at their disposal.
Bell’s 2020 season will be more like Jones’ rookie year with Furniture Row Racing. He scored five top-fives and 14 top-10s that year in a second car behind Martin Truex Jr. and serves as an example of the best results that can be achieved with a satellite team.
The top-ranked rookie has potential everywhere. His background in dirt sprint cars – and his continued devotion to running them in off weeks – has given him excellent throttle control. That is particularly useful on short tracks.
Bell’s best three tracks in the Xfinity series are Iowa where he has four top-fives and two wins, Richmond with three top-fives all of which are wins, and Dover with three top-fives and two wins. He also has three top-fives and a win on the 1-mile flat track of Phoenix as well as a pair of wins at New Hampshire. Bell has one win and two top-fives at Bristol as well.
He is no slouch on the 1.5- and 2-mile tracks with three top-fives and a win at Texas, plus two top-fives and a win at Atlanta and Kentucky. He has three top-fives at Las Vegas and two at Charlotte. Bell has also scored a win at Kansas. Rounding out his unrestricted, intermediate speedways success are top-fives at Auto Club, Darlington, and Homestead.
Bell has three top-fives on the aero-restricted superspeedways with two of those coming at Daytona and one at Talladega.
He has four top-fives on road courses highlighted by a win at Road America. Bell finished second at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen, with a fifth on the Charlotte Roval to round out his road course numbers.
Finally, he has a top-five on the 2.5-mile flat track of Pocono.
The biggest concern for Bell will be learning to deal with frustration. Rookie crash a lot as they search for the limit. There are going to be weeks when he costs a lot of fantasy points, but if his fantasy owners are patient, Bell will be the top performing rookie the most times in 2020.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Wins: 16 (21.6%)
Top-5s: 41 (55.4%)
Top-10s: 46 (62.2%)
Poles: 12 (16.2%)
Wins: 7 (12.9%)
Top-5s: 26 (48.1%)
Top-10s: 41 (75.9%)
Poles: 6 (11.1%)
Wins: 3 (50.0)
Top-5s: 4 (66.7%)
Top-10s: 6 (100.0%)