NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell is widely considered the most talented driver not in the Cup Series. When will he be promoted?
Christopher Bell drove the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on a full-time basis for the first time in the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season after spending two full seasons driving the #4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota in the Truck Series for two seasons, including his championship-winning 2017 season.
Many people expected the 24-year-old Norman, Oklahoma native to be promoted to the Cup Series for the 2019 season, especially after Joe Gibbs Racing formed a technical alliance with Leaving Family Racing and the seat of the #95 Toyota was left open for the 2019 season after Kasey Kahne officially announced his retirement.
While Bell did not win the 2018 Xfinity Series championship and ended up finishing in fourth place in the championship standings, he was undoubtedly the most impressive driver throughout the season. He earned seven victories while all the other full-time drivers combined to earn nine. The other three drivers who made it to the Championship 4 along with Bell combined to earn only three.
However, Matt DiBenedetto was named the driver of the #95 Toyota for the 2019 season, and even though Joe Gibbs Racing released Daniel Suarez, they replaced him with 2017 Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.
As a result, Bell is set to return to the Xfinity Series for his second full season in the sport. Meanwhile, Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft, who both spent two full seasons competing in the Xfinity Series and failed to win any races, are both set to drive full-time in the Cup Series in the 2019 season.
There are already several drivers younger than Bell competing in the Cup Series. It isn’t like it would be rushing him to the Cup Series at this point. However, it appears as though he will not be promoted until the right opportunity comes along — an opportunity to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing and/or to continue his relationship with the team and with Toyota.
Bell gives Toyota a lot of credit for getting him to where he is in his racing career, and while there were rumors that he would leave Toyota to drive a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in the Cup Series starting in the 2019 season, he opted to continue driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series despite the fact that he has been open about the fact that he does not feel that he needs to spend more time in the series.
When will an opportunity arise for Bell to compete in the Cup Series on a full-time basis?
It is possible that he could replace DiBenedetto at Leavine Family Racing as early as the 2020 season if DiBenedetto does not live up to expectations. Bell could then compete in the Cup Series while waiting for a seat to open up at Joe Gibbs Racing.
That said, how competitive Leavine Family Racing will be with their new technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing is unknown, so if they aren’t all that competitive, Bell may end up continuing to compete in the Xfinity Series, as it may be his best option.
As far as a seat at Joe Gibbs Racing becoming vacant, there has been a rumor for quite some time that Bell could replace Denny Hamlin, who went winless for the first time in his 13-year career as a full-time Cup Series driver in the 2018 season.
However, Hamlin signed a contract extension with the team ahead of the 2017 season, and this contract extension is believed to run through at least the 2020 season. This could make Erik Jones the driver on the hot seat, especially if Bell continues to rack up his Xfinity Series win total in the 2019 season.
While Jones earned his first career Cup Series victory in his first season driving the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the 2018 season, he earned this victory in a restrictor plate race at Daytona International Speedway and ended up finishing in 15th place in the championship standings after he was eliminated in the round of 16 of the playoffs.
As a whole, Jones did improve slightly from the 2017 season, his rookie season, when he failed to qualify for the playoffs and finished in 19th place in the championship standings driving the #77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.
But Joe Gibbs Racing just replaced Suarez after he finished in 20th and 21st place in the championship standings in the 2017 season and the 2018 season, respectively. If Jones does not improve from his 15th place finish in the 2018 season in the 2019 season, especially if he cannot get back to victory lane at least once, it would not be surprising to see the team replace him with Bell for the 2020 season.
With all things considered, expect Bell to be competing full-time in the Cup Series by no later than the 2021 season. Don’t be shocked to see him competing full-time in the series next year.
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When will Christopher Bell be promoted to the NASCAR Cup Series? Will he drive for Joe Gibbs Racing if and when he is promoted, and if so, who will he replace?