NASCAR Cup Series
Christopher Bell Tames the Magic Mile with First Win of 2022
Jul 18, 2022
"Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing."
Kimi Räikkönen, of course, said that during the 2012 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but the sentiment was channeled by Christopher Bell to crew chief Adam Stevens on Saturday inside the final 50 laps of the NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire.
Stevens intended to keep his driver motivated and focused, telling Bell how many laps were left and that leader Chase Elliott would fall off in lapped traffic, but the 27-year-old was having none of it.
"Adam, I've got it."
Or as translated from Finnish, leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.
Bell, in fact, knew what he was doing and had it, making the race winning pass with 43 laps to go and driving away over the final 40 miles to win by 5.439 seconds. It was the second win of his career, but the first of the season in which it became clear it would likely take a win to make the playoffs due to the parity surrounding the Next Gen car.
More on that in a bit.
What about the back and forth over the radio?
"One thing I really dislike is whenever people start giving me lap countdowns," Bell said. "I've really struggled (wanting to hear that information) whenever I made the transition to NASCAR because the races are so long.
"So like, even my spotter, I think they just get caught up a little bit in the moment and they're like, 'hey, 20 to go, 18 to go, 15 to go' and I'm like, 'Dude, I don't need a count down here."
It’s all very charming in a Kimi kind of way, especially when Bell in fact, didn’t need the countdown. Bell wasn’t convinced he was going to win the race by that point, and he appreciated the sentiment from Stevens, but he didn’t need the coaching.
Similar to Räikkönen, who carried the nickname Iceman, Bell wasn’t getting overly excited behind the wheel. He was focused on the task at hand.
"There were still so many laps left that there was no reason to get excited," Bell said. "You just had to take what it was giving you, and the best car was going to win. At that point we still had a ton of laps left, so the cars were going to go through another migration of lap time loss and tire degradation, and yeah, whatever car was best on the long run was going to win at that point, and I wanted to let him know that I was calm inside the car and just doing my job."
Stevens said he and Bell’s wife, Morgan, looked over at each other after that exchange and just smiled. They know their guy better than anyone.
"I think he understood that he was driving away, and he just wanted his radio a little bit quieter," Stevens said. "I was happy to hear it. I chuckled. I looked at Morgan and just kind of laughed and had a conversation with my engineers on the radio
"But yeah clearly he did have it.
It was obvious to Elliott, too, who felt like he got beat by the better driver on Sunday regardless of whose car was ultimately better over that final stint.
"He just did a better job of driving," Elliott said. "I think he could have won the race in my car."
Elliott got clean air, had the track position, and probably just burned up his rear tires too much working over Kurt Busch and Joey Logano before needing to fend off Bell in the final stint.
"When I got the lead, I didn't do a good job of controlling the lead the second time in three weeks," Elliott said. "The guys who run up front every week and have contended for championships every year don't give these races up. No excuse on my end."
The victory was huge for Bell on several fronts. It silenced the underlying concern that he wouldn’t win a race this season. Not only has he won, this also makes the No. 20 a near lock for the playoffs this fall barring an unlikely set of circumstances.
Bell, as steely cool as he can be sometimes, admitted some nervousness over the looming playoff situation.
"After the first couple races of the year, I kind of wrote off pointing our way into the championship, and then we had a stretch of really good races and kind of turned that around to like ‘hey, we may be able to do this,’ and then guys kept winning, and the cutoff line kept creeping up and up and up, so it feels really good to hopefully get myself above that cutoff line by a couple spots."
Bell and Stevens have been generally consistent this season to the tune of 11 top 10s and five top-s through 20 races. They’re eighth in the standings. Much of that is attributed to another lesson that Bell had to learn about pavement racing.
It was an Xfinity Series race at Phoenix, where early in the race, he just passed Kyle Busch for the lead and was feeling pretty proud.
"Then we come into the pit stop, make a pit stop, come back out and then the next run I'm running fifth and I can't do anything," Bell recalled.
"What that engraved in my head is you are only as good as your race car. If your race car is fast and you have a first-place car, it's pretty easy to get to first as long as you do your job. If you're a fifth-place race car you're probably not going to take it from fifth to first."
Stevens has given Bell a lot of fifth place race cars this year, but this was one of the handful this season he knew was capable of winning.
"I had a first-place race car," Bell said. "At the end of that race, basically the third stage my car was the fastest one out there, especially on the long run, and I did my job to maximize that."
Just leave the Iceman alone. He knew what he was doing.