Joe Gibbs is confident his organization is getting better as the weeks go by, honing in on what to do with the Next Gen car and its race package. And one of his drivers, Gibbs believes, is getting ready for a breakthrough.
“I hope so,” Christopher Bell said of his team owner’s comments. “After last year winning at the Daytona road course, I really felt like we were going to be capable of winning a bunch of races and it didn’t happen. But this year, we’ve been really close to winning several times.
“I feel like every time we go to the racetrack it’s really fun right now, because we have potential, and we know we have the potential to win week in and week out. Hopefully, everything will come together, and we’ll be able to start winning here soon.”
Sitting 10th in the standings as the NASCAR Cup Series prepares for its longest night with the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, Fox), Bell and company have put together three top-six finishes in the last four points races. Bell has also scored two poles and led 47 laps in that stretch.
“Speed is not the issue,” he said. “Just some things we know how to control and can tidy up.”
Bell’s crew chief, two-time champion Adam Stevens, agrees with his driver’s assessment.
“We’ve had good speed all year,” Stevens said. “We’ve had a couple of finishes that got away from us for sure and at least one time, we didn’t give him a very good race car out there in Phoenix. But other than that, we’ve had top five, top 10 efforts.
“Even this past weekend (in the All-Star Race), we didn’t unload as good as we wanted, but we were able to run it up there to P2 before we got loose hit and hit a bump and got a piece of the fence and tore it up. I feel like, and it sounds like he feels like, if we do our jobs as a team and have a clean weekend, we find ourselves upfront, and we can be a factor. We’ve just got to continue to string those whole weekends together and have clean races.”
Even as some have said the Toyota camp is behind, Bell has felt his group has been competitive since the start. He also pointed to how all six Toyota drivers finished inside the top 10 at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago, and at another intermediate earlier this year, Las Vegas, they put three in the top 10.
“We’ve been strong; it just hasn’t worked out yet,” Bell said. “I think we’re right on the brink of breaking through.”
And if that time comes, it won’t necessarily be a confidence boost so much as solidifying the team’s progress.
“I wouldn’t even necessarily say it’s confidence-related,” Stevens said. “It’s learning how to put the weekends together, and it’s not all his learning, either. It’s the team in general. A lot of the B team and over the wall, we’ve got to do a little bit better job there. We’ve certainly made some mistakes and taken him out of situations to potentially win races. And just understanding what he needs to go fast and being able to give that him, which we’ve been doing a certainly a better job this year and as the year’s gone, and getting your arms around everything it takes to have a successful weekend.
“You just start to see glimpses of it, and you can look back at past history with young drivers who have come into the Cup Series – it takes them a while to become a consistent winner. Look at Chase Elliott and William. This is Bell’s third year, second year in the 20 car, and you’re seeing the running up front a lot more, seeing us lead more laps, you’re seeing us finish toward the front more. It’s a steady progress and climb, and it feels like we’re getting to where we need to be. It’s just time to do it.”