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Why is Christopher Bell so Underrated?

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What’s Happening?

With NASCAR Full Speed debuting on Netflix today, Christopher Bell put out a promotional video that plays into how many view him. Netflix did not view him as a favorite to make the Championship 4, or even to make the Round of 8, while Kyle Larson sort of pushed back against that narrative. What is it that makes Christopher Bell one of NASCAR’s most underrated stars despite 2 consecutive Championship 4 appearances?

  • Christopher Bell is 29 years old, and he is entering his 5th Cup Series season, his 4th with Joe Gibbs Racing. He has won every season at JGR, and he has made the Championship 4 with clutch late-season wins each of the last two seasons.
  • Despite this success, he’s often not talked about as the “Top dog” at JGR. Is it because of the drivers around him, or is it because of his own performance?
  • Fans tend to respect Bell and how good he is. However, he does not get as much air time as some other drivers do.

The Drivers He is Surrounded By at JGR

Christopher Bell is surrounded by three big personalities at JGR. He has Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., and Ty Gibbs to contend with for notoriety.

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First, there’s Denny Hamlin, who has been with the team since Bell was in middle school. Hamlin is very outspoken with a podcast and plenty of quotable moments. Everyone has an opinion of him, and he always finds a way into the spotlight.

Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Gibbs are both a bit more reserved, but they do find the spotlight. Truex Jr. is a Champion, and he is known for just going out and dominating races, leaving the competition to scratch their heads and wonder “How do we beat him”? Gibbs is very young, but he gained notoriety in the lower series for over-aggressive moves. Every fan has an opinion on Ty Gibbs.

Christopher Bell is neither a particularly flashy driver nor an outgoing personality. He tends to keep to himself and let his driving do the talking. However, when there are drivers within his own race team that tend to steal the spotlight with more flair, it’s easy to push Bell into the background.

The Kyle Larson Comparison

Christopher Bell has one other driver that he will always be compared to, Kyle Larson. Both of these drivers had incredibly similar racing upbringings, dirt. Both drivers came up through the USAC dirt racing ranks, and both have competed in some of the same dirt track races.

However, Kyle Larson is a world-renowned race car driver. There’s a reason that McLaren is partnering with Hendrick Motorsports to race in the Indianapolis 500. When many general motorsports fans are asked to name the most talented NASCAR driver, many will say Kyle Larson, and few will name Christopher Bell.

Fair or not, if someone mentions Bell and his racing prowess on dirt, the conversation will likely turn to “Kyle Larson did that too”. Kyle Larson was a big story at the Chili Bowl because he made a last-minute entry, but, how many know that Bell won 3 Chili Bowls in a row?

Regardless of this fact, Larson highly respects Bell, and that’s evidenced by the Netflix docuseries. That still won’t stop fans from comparing the two.

His Own Performance

Another factor is Bell’s overall performance. Since he joined the NASCAR Cup Series, he has won 6 races in 3 seasons. That’s an average of two wins per year, which is a solid clip, but it’s not amazing by any means.

What Bell hangs his hat on is a clutch performance. Of his 6 career wins, 3 of them came in the later rounds of the Playoffs. He won elimination races at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville in 2022, and he won in the Round of 8 at Homestead-Miami in 2023.

However, overall, Bell has not clearly been the best JGR driver of each of the last few seasons. In 2021, he theoretically finished 15th in the Racing Reference “Non-Playoff Standings”, which are based on how drivers perform throughout the full season, 4th amongst JGR drivers. In 2022, he theoretically finished 6th, and in 2023 he finished 3rd. He was the 2nd best JGR driver in 2023 and the best in 2022 in those theoretical standings.

While Bell has gotten clutch victories to put himself into a good Playoff position, his overall performance throughout the season has never been the best in the sport. He’s not even always been the best on his own race team. Over the general grind of the season, it’s easy to see why Bell can get lost in the shuffle if most of his big moments come late in the season.

Christopher Bell is one of the best drivers on the Cup Series grid today, but, there are a few things that keep him from separating himself. Is this the year that he finally gets the full respect he deserves?

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