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Happy in Xfinity, Christopher Bell sees no Cup openings yet at Gibbs

NASCAR XFINITY Series iK9 Service Dog 200 - Practice

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 08: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series iK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway on March 8, 2019 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Christopher Bell doesn’t know what he will be doing next season yet in NASCAR, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver surprisingly seems unworried about his timetable for reaching the Cup Series.

“If I ever make it to Cup,” Bell told reporters Friday afternoon

Wait, “if”?

“I mean, yeah, unless you know something I don’t,” Bell said with a smile.

It was a decidedly different tone from Bell, who made some headlines eight months ago when he talked openly about wanting to be in Cup by 2019 because he didn’t “want to waste another year of my prime” in Xfinity.

But Bell, 24, spent much of his media session Friday singing the praises of his enjoyment of racing the Xfinity Series and seemed content if he remains on the circuit for another year. Is there a new attitude this season?

“Yeah, I’m trying to figure out how to word this,” he said with a laugh. “So obviously I want to go to Cup, right? But I never meant that phrase as, ‘I don’t want to be in Xfinity,’ because I love the Xfinity Series, and like I just said, I love the cars and feel they race well.

“Ultimately I get to drive race cars for a living, so that’s really cool.”

The status and career path of Bell has been an open question that has drawn much scrutiny. Officials from Toyota Racing Development, which has invested millions in helping groom the dirt racing prodigy, have said numerous times that Bell will remain in the Toyota camp for his inevitable promotion to Cup.

That’s prompted speculation because there are only five viable Toyota seats – four of which belong to Joe Gibbs Racing, which is fielding Bell in the Xfinity for the second consecutive season.

The only JGR driver in a contract year is Erik Jones, who recently told that he is working on an extension with the team. The only other option would be Leavine Family Racing, whose No. 95 Toyota is filled by Matt DiBenedetto this season.

Bell said he hasn’t asked about his 2020 schedule yet and is unconcerned.

“It’s still early in the year,” the Norman, Okla., native said. “Normally, I don’t figure out where I land until August-ish. So we’re definitely early in the year to know where I’m going to be.”

And when he does know, he isn’t expecting to take Jones’ spot or anyone else at Gibbs.

“I never really pictured Erik being my hole,” Bell said. “If you look at the Gibbs camp now, I can’t picture anyone being my hole because all four cars are running exceptional now. Watch any of the races, all four are right in the top five. I don’t know where I’m going to land. I’m just enjoying the ride now.”

But is the conjecture distracting for the rising star who set an Xfinity rookie record with seven victories last season and has a win this season?

“It’s cool, right,” Bell said. “I’m honored that people want to know where I’m going to go. That’s better than people not caring. That’s really cool. But I don’t know. I wouldn’t say distractions because it kind of goes in one ear and out the other, so it’s not anything I have input in or can control that. The only thing I can control is finishing races and hopefully winning races.”

And enjoying himself.

“Honestly, I love these Xfinity cars,” he said. “They are a ton of fun to drive. And a lot of fun to race, too. I feel like the Xfinity races have been excellent.”