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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Christopher Bell just wants to finish a race — something he didn‘t anticipate longing for nearly a month after the season started.
Three races into his inaugural NASCAR Cup Series season, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year favorite coming into the year is ranked 32nd in points, has completed just 542 of 676 laps run and has only had a functioning car at the end of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway race — a 33rd-place finish that he crashed in the middle of.
It’s worth a reminder this is the same Bell who has been a perennial national series title heavyweight the past few years, compiling 23 wins at the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series levels since 2015.
“(Acclimating to) married life has definitely been easier so far,” the recently-wed Bell said Friday at Phoenix Raceway, site of Sunday‘s FanShield 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio). “The biggest thing is just getting to the end of the race. We see from all of the JGR cars, they‘ve all been starting in the back and it takes them a while, but eventually they get up front. I haven‘t even seen Stage 2 yet. I can‘t speak to how we would run the second half of the race. Here we are at Race 4, hopefully I‘ll be able to see the checkered flag.”
That‘s a wild thing for a driver many pegged to win a race this year to say — that he‘s just hoping to see a checkered flag, forget about being in contention to win one.
To his credit, though, sometimes bad luck just comes in spurts, and sometimes those spurts come at the start of one‘s Cup career. The Daytona 500 was the Daytona 500, and an engine issue at Auto Club Speedway last week wasn‘t something he could have avoided. A wreck at Las Vegas the week prior, however, was “pretty disappointing” and “not cool.”
The ironic thing here? Bell was insistent during preseason interviews one of his main priorities was not running into many DNFs.
“And what do you know!” Bell quipped to NASCAR.com with a giant grin. “I mean, we‘re almost dead last in points, so that‘s not cool. But, that‘s the story of my career. Maybe at some point, I‘ll figure it out. Fortunately, on the flip side of it, I‘ve been able to win some races, too. But I need to win this year otherwise I‘m going to be in trouble.
” … Other than that, just here we go again. Week 4.”