Christopher Bell’s young racing career might best be symbolized by ancient Rome’s Janus, the god of beginnings, transitions and passages, and endings.
Janus is depicted as having two faces, one looking forward to the future, and one looking back into the past.
So it wasn’t hard to understand how Bell could call his first career Xfinity Series victory at Kansas the biggest of his career, but the sprint midget racing victory at the Chili Bowl in January, coincidentally, his most treasured.
Bell, the fastest engine in Oklahoma, comes to Texas Motor Speedway this week doing more than chasing a much sought-after NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
He’s chasing his future, a place one day on NASCAR’s top competitive level. If he gets there, it’ll be because of his foundation — his past — racing on dirt, making the rounds at tracks including Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale.
In his immediate future, Bell, the trucks series points leader, will be seeking to become only the third driver since 2004 to sweep the Camping World Truck Series races at TMS in the same season when he competes in Friday’s JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief.
Bell will also drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Xfinity Series race, his first Xfinity start at TMS. Bell’s full-time job next season will be with Joe Gibbs on the Xfinity series.
And as the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series deals with how to replace its highest-profile stars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bell appears to be a what you might call a top minor-league prospect.
“I feel like it’s all happened really quickly,” said Bell, a 20-year-old from Norman who became the first Oklahoma native to win on a NASCAR national series. “It’s only been a span of a couple of years since … running at Cowtown Speedway. We’d drive right by the big track and wonder if I’d ever get an opportunity there. It’s been a quick ride, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
More like speedy ride.
That’s Bell, whose culture in racing was nurtured in the dirt. Those are the same roots of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart in NASCAR, and A.J. Foyt and Fort Worth’s Johnny Rutherford in IndyCar.
They are said to be able to “find speed” in a car.
His pride and joy, as he admitted, was the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, an event Stewart won multiple times.
Like Stewart, Bell admitted last week that, though he realized his NASCAR future on the pavement is his focus, he’ll have a hard time getting over his past, that is, giving up his origins in the dirt.
Not that he necessarily should. It’s a culture and style of driving that made hall of famers out of Gordon, Stewart, and many, many others.
It’s also a culture and state of mind that caused a stir in his victory at Kansas, where he had a run-in with Joe Gibbs Xfinity teammate Erik Jones.
In the final laps, Bell maneuvered his No 18 Toyota past Jones and then later slid up the track before being rear-ended by Jones.
Bell drove on unimpeded. A miffed Jones, who led 186 of the 200 laps, staggered in.
But that’s the mentality of a dirt racer, said Parker Klingerman, a race analyst for NBC Sports. Instead of a mindset that a slow car needs work or the setup isn’t working, a dirt racer is more likely to think he needs to figure out a way to drive the car differently, figure out a way to use the track differently. And that’s how they “find speed,” using a different line on the race track that another isn’t using.
“I think when you get that ingrained inside of you,” Klingerman said, “there are portions in a race or a time in a season where that really pays off. It’s not going to work every time. You eventually have to learn how to make the setup work because pavement racing isn’t as dynamic as dirt racing, but there are times and places where that’s just going to give you a leg up because you’re thinking that way.
“You’re never worried about Christopher Bell finding the speed in a race car.”
That victory was only one of thousands of laps he has taken since his victory at the WinstarOnlineGaming.com 400 at TMS in June.
Bell, who has five wins and 13 top-five finishes in 20 trucks start this season in Kyle Busch Racing’s No. 4 Toytota, leads Johnny Sauter by three points and multi-time series champion Matt Crafton by 15 points.
“To win my first Xfinity race like that was really special to me,” said Bell. “But I’m looking forward to getting back to the truck race because that’s my day job. I’ve still got some unfinished business there.”
JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief
7 p.m. Friday, FS1