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Christopher Bell
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Statistically Speaking

Head-to-head: Erik Jones vs. Christopher Bell

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: December 25, 2019, 12:15 pm ET

Every driver in the NASCAR Cup series advanced through the grassroots. At various points in time, paved late models were the preferred method of showing one’s talent, but increasingly dirt track drivers have garnered the lion’s share of attention.

Kyle Larson’s much-celebrated affection for his roots has fans showing up at dirt tracks in increasing numbers, but in the coming years we are going to have an opportunity to watch one of the best paved alums take on a dirt rival as Erik Jones and Christopher Bell go head-to-head.

It will take a while for the rivalry to completely heat up, but it starts this year as they battle go be the future of one of NASCAR's premiere organizations.

Enhancing their rivalry is that both have been tapped by Joe Gibbs Racing to be part of a juggernaut that has room for only one of them at the Cup level. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin aren’t going anywhere soon and NASCAR has a four-car limit for the senior series.


That limitation has required quite a few teams to get creative and support their competition with satellite efforts. Team Penske has the Wood Brothers to provide as a feeder and Hendrick Motorsports has Chip Ganassi Racing. In 2019, Gibbs will increase their support to the Leavine Family Racing team in order to get Bell into the Cup series to race for Rookie of the Year honors alongside Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer.

But the real attention is going to be how Bell performs in reference to Jones.

Given that Jones will be in better equipment overall, the question will be whether Bell can continue the improvement of the No. 95 that started with Michael McDowell, continued with Kasey Kahne, and reached a peak last year with Matt DiBenedetto behind the wheel.

Each week Bell will be competing in four races within the race: He will be racing against himself to improve each week, but he must also prove able to beat DiBenedetto’s performance from 2019. Can he be the best in the Freshmen class? Can he show more promise than Jones and become the future of Joe Gibbs Racing?

 

Christopher Bell (Xfinity)

 

Wins

Top-fives

Top-10s

Points’ Standings

2017

1

3

5

NM (8 starts)

2018

7

18

20

4

2019

8

20

21

3

Total

16

41

46

3.50 (avg.)

 

Meanwhile the pressure is on Jones. He has had three full seasons to prove himself and has performed moderately well. When he is on his ‘A’ game, he challenges for top-fives, but he’s struggled to find consistency and has become crash-prone when he digs too deep.

Winning his first Cup race in his second season locked him into the 2018 playoffs, but he ran into trouble immediately during the final 10 races with an accident at Las Vegas. Moreover, that win came on the wild card Daytona International Speedway. Many drivers with plate wins never visit Victory Lane again.

Jones’ victory this year in the Southern 500 was much more meaningful because it came on one of the toughest tracks on the circuit – and in one of NASCAR’s Crown Jewels. He made the playoffs again, but as in 2018 Jones immediately struggled and failed to advance out of the Round of 16. Despite being a part of the last two championship hunts, his average points finish has been less than impressive.

 

Erik Jones (Cup)

 

Wins

Top-fives

Top-10s

Points’ Standings

2015

0

0

0

NM (3 starts)

2017

0

5

14

19

2018

1

9

18

15

2019

1

10

17

16

Total

2

24

49

16.7 (avg.)

Three-best tracks

Darlington

4.7 in 3 starts

 

 

 

Kentucky

5.3 in 3 starts

 

 

 

Watkins Glen

6.3 in 3 starts

 

 

 

 

The Southern 500 proved one thing, however, and that is Jones’ ability to race under pressure. At the time of his victory, the ultimate lineup of the Joe Gibbs Racing organization was not set and Jones was all too aware of how quickly fortunes could change.

So far as we know, Jones’ contract extension was only for one year.

Jones was watching when Gibbs’ unceremoniously dumped Joey Logano at the end of 2012 and noticed how expendable Daniel Suarez became as soon as Truex needed a new home. Jones will be driving the first part of 2020 with one eye on the rear view mirror.

Jones is at a pivotal part of his career. In his fourth full time season this is a watershed moment that will determine not only his fate with Gibbs, but what type of equipment he will spend most of his senior level career racing. Like Bell, he will be racing with multiple agendas in 2020.

Jones has to prove not only that he has the desire to win, but that he can develop more car control and avoid mistakes at critical moments. The 2020 season will not be a success unless he qualifies for the playoffs and at the very least advances beyond the Round of 16. Without a top-10 points effort, Jones could struggle to find a ride that matches his talent – and that is something we've seen all too often in a sport with spots for only 40 top athletes.

Previous Head-to-head matchups:
Chase Elliott vs. Ryan Blaney
Kyle vs. Kurt Busch
Joe Gibbs vs. Team Penske

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.