Now it’s time for Bell to do all of that again in the playoffs – and to prove that he can win the title.
Bell will be the top seed as the eight-driver Camping World Truck Playoffs begin Saturday with the UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He begins his push for the championship with 40 valuable playoff points, many of them accumulated from his four victories at Atlanta, Texas, Kentucky and Pocono.
“Looking ahead, nothing changes for us,” Bell said. “We are going to try and win each and every race in the playoffs. There’s nothing you can do that’s different (from the regular season) except you realize that the penalties are higher if you make a mistake, so you’ve got to try and minimize your mistakes.”
This isn’t Bell’s first postseason experience. He qualified for the playoffs in his rookie season of 2016 – getting in by virtue of a victory at Gateway Motorsports Park – and advanced on points to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But his whole outlook of what it takes to perform well in the playoffs – and grabbing a first championship – has changed from a year ago.
“Last year I felt like we were able to capitalize on consistency,” Bell said. “We won in the middle of the season at Gateway, but overall we weren’t consistently competing for wins. We knew if we could knock down top fives or to eights, it would get us to Homestead.
“But this year we’ve seen a different kind of progress. We’re competing for wins a lot more often and we’ve won a lot more races. Hopefully it continues that way and we win our way to Homestead.”
The regular season was nothing short of a success for Bell, who had 10 top fives, 14 top 10s, won three poles and five stages victories, in addition to leading 593-of-2,200 laps (more than a quarter of the laps he ran). He thinks that’s the kind of consistency that should help get him to Homestead again (along with the built-in advantage of those 40 bonus points).
“I think that will translate for us into the Playoffs,” Bell said. “It’s going to be nothing different. Saturday (at New Hampshire) will be just another race. There’s no more added pressure over the next nine races than if we were to go to the GoPro Motorplex (in nearby Mooresville, N.C.) and run go-karts. We’re all racers. The only downside is the mistakes are more costly.”
As confident as Bell is, two upcoming Playoff tracks have him somewhat concerned – Martinsville and Talladega.
“Martinsville is my struggle point,” said Bell, whose best finish in three starts at the Virginia short track is sixth (twice). He remembers leading late at Martinsville when he was taken out by a lapped car.
Then there’s Talladega, which will be the third and final race of the playoffs’ first round and where Bell finished sixth in 2016.
“Talladega’s such a wild card,” Bell said.
Bell said there will be no major changes for the playoffs made to his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota truck. None are necessary.
“We haven’t done any experimenting,” he said. “Every time we go to the race track, we have fantastic trucks, so there’s no need. Kyle (Busch) has done some experimenting with our fourth truck, so luckily for me I haven’t been the guinea pig. This truck can compete for wins and has winning speed and has winning speed almost every time.
“Now that looks bad for me as the driver, because I didn’t win every race.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!