Anticipation has been building over the early months of this year about a young athlete from Oklahoma who is a rising star in his sport, scaling the walls of expectation at a young age with freakish ability.
If you assumed the subject was Oklahoma Sooners guard Trae Young, it would be hard to cast blame. He made it very hard for the NBA to ignore him with his uncanny ability to create baskets for himself and others.
However, it is another Norman guy we’re talking about, who, likewise, is making it difficult for another major-league sport to ignore him.
Christopher Bell, last season’s Trucks season champion and now two-time winner of dirt’s prestigious Chili Bowl in Tulsa, is on the rise, driving this year full time on NASCAR’s Xfinity series.
No one expects a flameout for the 23-year-old driving in NASCAR’s fast lane, in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota Camry to be specific.
“I’m thankful for all the partners at JGR to get this full-time season,” Bell said earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway when asked how he envisioned his path to NASCAR’s big leagues. “Hopefully, I can perform and win races to where I can’t be ignored.
“I’ve been told this since a young age: Racing is a relatively easy sport. If you win races, you get promoted. If you lose races, you get demoted. My goal is to win races and win enough that I can’t be ignored.”
Bell will return to TMS for Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 Xfinity race.
He will be seeking his second black cowboy hat, handed out to champions at TMS. On his way to the Trucks title in 2017, Bell zipped around TMS in dominating June’s Winstaronlinegaming.com 400.
It was hard to ignore him that day as he led 92 of the race’s 167 laps, all after starting 21st.
The season title was Kyle Busch Motorsports’ second drivers championship, following the title of Erik Jones, another fast-tracker, in 2015. In all, Bell won five Trucks races in 2017, with 15 top 10s and 21 top 15s.
Bell also made his Xfinity debut last season, driving JGR’s No. 18 as part of an eight-race schedule. In those eight races, Bell had a victory and five top 10s.
He won his first Xfinity race in start No. 5, at Kansas, passing Jones in the final laps.
Jones, a puppy at 21, has taken over Matt Kenseth’s ride full time with JGR’s big club, the No. 20 Toyota Camry.
Will Bell be the next in line for a promotion.
“No one has spoken to me about it,” he said.
He will, no doubt, get his chance to not be ignored in the same No. 20 Jones drove in Xfinity. In 77 races, Jones won nine Xfinity races and entered the 2016 season as the series No. 1 seed in the Chase.
Some have even anointed him the favorite to win this year’s Xfinity title.
Through the first five races, Bell had three top-10 finishes and three poles.
That’s not shabby for the kid who grew up dirt racing in Oklahoma, spending more than his fair share of time on Dallas-Fort Worth’s dirt circuit.
It is also in the dirt that Bell might find inspiration.
His victory in last year’s prestigious Chili Bowl in Tulsa was a prelude to his first title in a NASCAR national series.
Every year, the Chili Bowl draws in some of motorsports’ top names.
Tony Stewart has won it twice. Billy Boat and Dave Blaney are also past winners.
In January of this year, Bell won it a second consecutive time, beating the likes of Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier.
“Racing is a funny sport, man,” Bell said. “The mental aspect of racing is huge. Any time you are able to win big events, like the Chili Bowl, or win at Texas in June. It elevates your confidence as a race car driver.
“But confidence is a funny thing. It takes so long to build it back up and then have one bad race and it drains the tank again. It’s really important to run well and keep that confidence up because the confident race car driver is typically the better race car driver.”
Not to mention the one who more than likely will climb NASCAR’s ladder not with deliberate speed but with, as they say, majestic urgency.