The NASCAR Cup Series calendar, 36 races in total, is long and demanding that demands the utmost dedication and concentration from its teams and drivers. This leaves little room for anything else, which can be to the chagrin of runners accustomed to the nomadic life to run anything, anywhere, anytime.

Christopher Bell, now in his second year in the Cup, grew up doing just that.

A professional dirt runner, the Norman, Oklahoma native, ran hundreds of times a year before he began his ascent of the NASCAR ladder. But while the demands of the NASCAR calendar have taken him away from that somewhat, he will soon have the opportunity to take some time and re-explore his racing roots.

After no hiatus in the schedule since Easter, the NASCAR Cup Series is on a two-week hiatus at the end of July after this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. At first glance, the break gives Bell the opportunity to rest and recharge as he prepares for the NASCAR playoffs, which he qualified for due to his first career victory on the Daytona Road. Race earlier this year.

Since winning Daytona, Bell has gone somewhat under the radar in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing. But two good runs before a second place finish at Road America suggest he and his team are starting to operate on the same page.

“Honestly, we started the season pretty strong. We were able to win straight away which was amazing. And from there we had a lot of good runs in the Top 10, we competed in the Top 5 in of several events. ”Bell told CBS Sports. “And then it felt like the start of summer, we really, really struggled for some reason. We just had horrible finishes, we weren’t really that fast, we struggled and we weren’t not as good as we wanted.

“But it looks like we’ve turned a corner here in the last three or four weeks… I think being at Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of this # 20 group, there’s no reason we couldn’t not compete for wins last week and week. And me getting myself and [crew chief] Adam Stevens got to know each other and getting on the same page definitely took a little while – probably a little longer than we both would like to admit – but I hope we’re on the right track. here .”

With free time looming, it’s no surprise that Bell says he thinks he’ll be able to do dirt runs during the summer vacation. Bell is a three-time Chile Bowl National Championship champion for midget cars, was the 2013 USAC Midget Series National Champion, and won his first NASCAR race in 2015 in the Truck Series Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Raceway.

But the demands of NASCAR – and more specifically, what is asked of him at Joe Gibbs Racing – kept him from racing as much as he would like. Even though Kyle Larson, his biggest rival on earth, continues to maintain a healthy sprint car racing list throughout his recent dominant stretch, Bell says he’s been communicated that he needs to focus on the Racing cup.

However, Bell believes that frequently racing beyond NASCAR is to his advantage as a driver. And as he begins to be more successful at the highest level of NASCAR, he’s optimistic that car owner Joe Gibbs will calm down and allow him to pursue more extra-circular racing activities.

“I don’t know what the magic number is of what would be a dream season for me to run, but I think it’s extremely beneficial and necessary, especially for a guy like me who grew up running over 100 times a year, and then all of a sudden you get into the NASCAR scene where you only run 36 times, ”Bell said.“ And especially during this COVID protocol that we’ve been following for the past two years where it hasn’t. there is no track time. You show up on the race weekend, you take part in the race itself, and you go home and then you are out of the car for seven days until you move on to the next race. “

He added that he thinks Larson is helped by allowing others to run more than others.

“I think Larson had a fair little advantage of being able to race more often than the regular Cup guys. But Joe Gibbs is very focused on Cup Series races, and he’s been really tough on me that he wants to do . I’m sure I’m focusing on Cup races, ”Bell said.“ Up to this point Joe has told me he would like me to focus on Cup races, and it looks like that. relaxes a bit.

“But I think more or better I can run and mix extracurricular racing and Cup racing – and I think it’s hugely beneficial to do that – I hope he changes his tune a bit more and me. will give it a little more freedom. “

This weekend, Bell will be in its wheelhouse at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track that emphasizes handling and control of the car thanks to its worn pavement that eats away at tires and puts drivers at the limit of control. And he’ll be racing for a good cause, as his Craftsman / Ace Hardware Toyota Foundation will promote the Children’s Miracle Network and its Racing for a Miracle program.

Now in its 15th year of existence, the Racing for a Miracle program has donated $ 1.5 million to support Children’s Miracle Network, which was added Thursday when Bell was in attendance for a $ 100,000 donation to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Center for Advanced Pediatrics.

Bell’s paint scheme for the weekend was designed by four kids from CMN hospitals, whom Bell was able to meet virtually and who will all be honorary members of the Supply Team this weekend. Which is just as special for 26-year-old Bell as it is for the kids.

“It’s really special. I never really expected to be in this position, but I’m so lucky and blessed to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing and to be associated with Stanley Black & Decker and all their brands. “said Bell. “It’s really special to drive the car. I remember last year and years watching this happen, and last year competing against the car. It would really please me if we could go to Atlanta and us fighting for a win and maybe squealing one. “

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