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NASCAR Norman native places 8th at Quaker State 400, moves up in overall cup ranking

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Christopher Bell races

Christopher Bell, No. 20, races at the Quaker State 400 in Atlanta on July 11.

A Norman NASCAR driver placed eighth at a race in Atlanta on July 11.

Christopher Bell, a 26-year-old driver born and raised in Norman, competed in the Quaker State 400 on Sunday for the Joe Gibbs racing team in a Craftsman Toyota Camry. After three stages, he finished in eighth place out of 37 racers and gained a total of 29 points for the Cup Series. He now sits at 15th place in the overall cup ranking.

Bell told The Oklahoman he started racing when he was a preteen, competing in cars built by his dad before upgrading to new equipment with the help of Darren Ruston, the owner of Firestone Trucking in El Reno. In the new equipment, Bell won in two different classes at I-44 Speedway, according to The Oklahoman. Bell was only 12 years old at the time.

“Dad, if I can get in good equipment, I told you I could win,” Bell told The Oklahoman.

Since Bell entered the nationwide racing scene, he’s been contracted by several different teams and series. In 2015, he started making a name for himself in the NASCAR truck circuit, securing a top-five finish at 20 years old, according to The Transcript

In 2017, Bell won the Camping World Truck Series championship, making him the first Oklahoman to earn a first place title in the top three divisions of NASCAR.

“It was pretty unbelievable,” Bell told The Transcript. “Something I never would have dreamed of. I wouldn’t have dreamed of actually getting to compete in a NASCAR sanctioned race, let alone winning one.”

For this year’s NASCAR Cup Series, Bell is competing in the No. 20 car managed by Joe Gibbs Racing, a team for both the Cup Series and the XFinity Series. Racers like Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin will also compete with Joe Gibbs Racing, according to the team’s website.

“I’m out there in practice, drafting with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex,” Bell told the Oklahoman. “Seeing all those cars with the sponsors on the front that you’ve been watching on TV for years, and the next thing you know, it’s real life. They’re right in front of you.” 

At the Quaker State 400, Bell quickly made his way to the front of the pack before falling behind after a pit stop during a competition caution, which was called due to the weather a few hours before the race.

An accident during the second stage between the No. 99 and No. 47 cars gave racers another chance to pit, but Bell chose to stay on the track. He managed to move a few spots ahead while the cars were repaired in the pit lane, putting him in 13th place by the 34th lap.

The race was a total of 260 laps and slightly over 400 miles. It was split into three stages, the first two consisting of 80 laps and the final having 100. After the first stage, Bell was in the top 20 and remained there for the remainder of the second stage.

During the final stage, a chunk of asphalt was broken on the track, pausing the race at lap 167 as drivers pulled up to the fence line by the stands. Some of the drivers revved their engines at the request of fans.

Once the track was repaired, Bell made his way to the top 10 before falling behind after his final pit stop around lap 210. Bell eventually worked his way back up to the top 10 and remained at eighth place for the remainder of the race.

The next Cup Series race, the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, takes place at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. All of the racers on Joe Gibbs’ team will compete there, including Bell.

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