Bell grateful for Toyota driver development program

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By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

Since their entrance into NASCAR through the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) in 2004, Toyota and Toyota Racing Development have revolutionized the sport. One of the main revolutionary things is a new way of ushering in driver development across the weekly and touring series across the NASCAR landscape to put Chevrolet and Ford Performance in “catch-up” mode.

One of those drivers that has been a part of the driver development program for Toyota Racing is 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, Christopher Bell. Bell has been part of the program since his days in U.S Auto Club (USAC).

In 2015, Bell made his NCWTS debut at Iowa Speedway in 2015. In just his third start, Bell won the race at Eldora Speedway in 2015. From that first win, Bell has made the trip to victory lane six additional times.

In 2018, Bell will graduate from NCWTS with Kyle Busch Motorsports to the NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. Bell made his NXS debut in 2017 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May and collected one win at Kansas Speedway and one pole at Iowa Speedway.

This move to Joe Gibbs Racing is a dream come true for Bell. The first recollection of being a part of the Toyota driver development program came during the 2014 Chili Bowl with Tyler Gibbs and Jack Irving.

“I can remember I think it was Chili Bowl 2014, myself, Tyler Gibbs and Jack Irving all went and sat down, and I was coming off the USAC national midget driver championship, which was the first for Toyota, and Jack and Tyler sat down and kind of ‑‑ we were just talking about the future and how it was going to work out,” Bell stated.

“Now a couple years later to be able to be moving up and going into the XFINITY Series with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing is a dream come true, and really thankful for the opportunities. It’s been great to be able to go from Keith Kunz Motorsports on the dirt side to Kyle Busch Motorsports in the late models, and then as well as the Truck Series, so I’ve been with great organizations, and it’s going to continue with Joe Gibbs.”

As with every step up through the ranks of NASCAR, excitement ensues and Bell is no different. Bell credits the driver development program that Toyota has in place that has prepared him for the step to NXS.

“One thing that Toyota has done a great job of is preparing me for the next stepping‑stone. Whenever I was running late models at Kyle Busch Motorsports, they were kind of trickling me into some truck races, and I think I got seven truck races that year before I went full‑time, and it worked out again this year where I’m going to have, I think, eight XFINITY races before I go full‑time next year, so that’s great seat time for me,” said Bell.

Without the investment from Toyota, Bell would not have found a feasible path to get in NASCAR. Bell alluded to the story of Kyle Larson in how he was able to get his start with Toyota at Kunz Motorsports, but ultimately went to race with Chip Ganassi and found a path to the top-level of NASCAR. Bell was lucky enough to receive the support from Toyota to pursue through the ranks. Bell is forever grateful for the investment from Toyota and his pursuit in NASCAR.

“To be able to be associated with Toyota through my entire young career has been a dream come true, and just thankful. I can’t say that enough how thankful I am that they’ve believed in me through the thick and thin,” said Bell. 

“Last year I had a really ‑‑ not a great season, and then this year has been really great. They believed in me enough to give me another opportunity this year in the Truck Series, and I’m really thankful for that, and I’m thankful that we get to continue our partnership.”

Bell will pilot a Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series vying for a championship and rookie of the year.

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