Christopher Bell looks for turnaround at Phoenix

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 07: Christopher Bell, driver of the #95 Procore Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 07, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

A win would be nice, but for Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Christopher Bell, a lead-lap finish would be almost as welcome.

Part of a much-ballyhooed NASCAR Cup Series rookie class, Bell has started the 2020 season with more than his share of rotten luck. In the Daytona 500, his No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota crashed out four laps short of the overtime finish.

At Las Vegas, Bell finished 10 laps down after a flat tire sent him into the outside wall, leading to a 33rd-place finish. Last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, a bolt shot through his radiator, and his engine expired from overheating.

Bell completed just 80 of 200 laps at Fontana and finished last (38th), lowering his average finish through the first three races to 30.7.

As a consequence, the rookie battle against Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole and Quin Houff is the furthest thing from Bell’s mind at this point.

“I haven’t seen a checkered flag yet, so it’s been pretty easy to not compare myself to other guys just because I haven’t finished – well, I finished at Las Vegas, but I crashed,” Bell said. “We’re focused on finishing a race first before we start worrying about where we stack up with everybody.”

After starting the season on a superspeedway and moving to two downforce tracks, Bell has found the new short-track package at one-mile Phoenix Raceway a welcome relief.

“It was cool,” Bell said after opening practice on Friday. “It was a totally different mind-set—totally different game than what we had the last couple weeks with intermediate practices. That was nice.

“It was a fresh breath of air to work on the race car during practice and not wonder… you always work on the race car… but not look at the speed charts there and know it’s pretty real. You don’t have to worry about who’s drafting and who’s not drafting.”

Greg Engle