CONCORD, N.C. — The last time Christopher Bell was at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he scored an unlikely victory that propelled him into the Round of Eight in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Last October, the No. 20 stunned with his walk-off win at the Bank of America ROVAL 400, utilizing every inch of the 2.25-mile road course to hold off Kevin Harvick en route to victory lane.
But this weekend, as Bell returns to the North Carolina facility to contest the longest race on the Cup Series schedule — the Coca-Cola 600 — he is arriving under wildly different circumstances.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is second in the series standings, 27 points behind Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain.
He’s been one of the top two in points for the last six weeks, which is a career-best for the four-year Cup Series driver. Also, Bell has already pocketed his first win of the season, which came at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on April 9. Comparably, it was July before Bell took a checkered flag last year.
But as the Cup Series approaches the halfway point in the regular season, the No. 20 Toyota driver said he’s disappointed with how things have gone.
“I feel like we have speed and have potential to do really good things, but we aren’t able to capitalize on it,” Bell said. “There are a couple details we need to get ironed out before we’re really going to be competing for wins, stage wins and leading laps.”
The 28-year-old has yet to win a stage. And 14 races into the season, it’s become a point of frustration. Bell also calls his number of laps led (158) less than ideal.
“Our potential is a lot higher than what we’re showing right now,” Bell said.
Though the discontentment may be off-putting, as the No. 20 driver has put on one of his best early-season performances with eight top-10 finishes, Bell is confident any driver in his shoes would feel the same way.
“They’d be saying the same thing,” Bell said with a shrug.
On Sunday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will have 400 laps (600 miles) at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway oval to put himself in position for his first Coca-Cola 600 victory. Driving the No. 20 Toyota to its full potential continues to weigh heavy on Bell’s mind, while surviving the marathon race is less of a concern.
“I look at the lap counts a lot more than I do the race distance. So, 400 laps is certainly a long race, but 500 laps at Martinsville and 500 laps at Bristol is a long one, too,” Bell said. “The Coke 600 is unique, because it’s the only place we do 400 laps on a mile-and-a-half, but we do 400 laps at many places.”