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Christopher Bell: I ‘want to be a factor’

Brad Daugherty looks at Silly Season in the NASCAR Cup Series, from Bubba Wallace's move to Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin's 23XI Racing, to the return of Kyle Larson, to the losses of Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer.

Some drivers base season goals on a particular number of wins or top-10 finishes. Christopher Bell’s goal is different.

“I just want to be a factor in the races,” he told NBC Sports.

The 26-year-old moves to Joe Gibbs Racing for his second season in Cup, continuing a climb through Toyota Racing Development’s system.

Bell, who won 15 Xfinity races from 2018-19 for JGR, wasn’t much of a factor in his rookie Cup season last year with an underfunded Leavine Family Racing team that left the sport after the season. His best finish third at Texas in the playoffs. It was one of only seven top-10 finishes he had.

I don’t know how many times my mom or dad called me and would be like ‘How did your race go because we never saw you,’ Bell said.

Perhaps no weekend was as disappointing for him last year than the Dover doubleheader. He won two of his four Xfinity starts there but was not a factor in either Cup race, finishing 22nd and 27th.

“Dover was a race I was so excited for,” Bell said. “I’ve obviously run great there in the Xfinity cars. I’ve been a factor every time I’ve been there. That was a race I had high expectations for and I (didn’t) crack the top 20 one time both days there. Dover is one that I’m really excited to get back to and redeem myself and run well there.”

Bell will be among the storylines to watch among all the driver moves this season. His arrival at JGR was made after the team chose not to keep 24-year-old Erik Jones, who won two races for the organization and made the playoffs twice in three years. Jones is now with Richard Petty Motorsports.

While Bell was aligned with JGR at Leavine Family Racing, now he’ll work out of the shop and have two-time Cup champion Adam Stevens as his crew chief. That raises expectations for the 2017 Truck Series champion.

“Biggest darkhorse I think is the guy with the most pressure, Christopher Bell,” former Cup champion Kurt Busch told NBC Sports. “He’s got a primary ride, an A+ team. He’s got tons of experience. It’s his time to shine.”

To do so, Bell knows he’ll have to take his lessons from last season and apply them this year.

One of the biggest adjustments was going from the Xfinity composite body, which took more punishment from the wall or other cars, to the steel bodies of Cup car.

“I knew going in it was going to be a big change,” Bell said. “It was so eye-opening how fragile steel bodies are. You’ve got to really take care of them and take care of your equipment and the long-distance races.”

That wasn’t the only adjustment for Bell.

“It was a big deal going to Trucks and learning how to distance race and the distance increased in Xfinity and then it got even longer in the Cup Series,” he said. “That’s been a change every time, moving up a series and it’s taken a little bit to learn.

“I wouldn’t trade my rookie year for the world. and I think that just everything I learned in my rookie year will help me in my sophomore year.”