Ross Chastain takes on the family motto in the race for the title: Just Do It

AVONDALE, Ariz. — A video game move sent Ross Chastain into the Cup championship race, but it was a video game that helped Christopher Bell head into Sunday’s title event at Phoenix Raceway.

5-year-old Bell was in love with racing, but after his parents bought a junior sprint car and secured sponsorship, Bell’s first race almost didn’t happen.

When it was time to get in the car for the first time, he didn’t want to.

“I just remember being super nervous about the situation and not wanting to drive,” Bell said.

But his mother made a deal with him.

“I’ll buy you a Nintendo game if you ever come home,” Kathy Bell said.

Bell immediately got into the car.

“As soon as I walked in, I fell in love with it,” he said, recalling the memory more clearly than the Nintendo game he got.

After completing his first practice run, he got out of the car and ran to his mother.

“Did you see me hit the wall?”

“Yeah.”

” That was too cool ! »

Bell never again questioned getting into a car.

When Bell got out of his car after winning last weekend in Martinsville, his first words were “Mom and Dad, we made it!”

They’ll be here in Phoenix to see if their son can win the Cup championship in his first appearance in the title chase (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock).

When Bell mentioned his parents after the Martinsville race, it was as much for the advice they gave during the playoffs, which saw him twice fall so far in the standings that he had to win the last race. one round to stay alive. He did it at the Charlotte Roval and then at Martinsville to earn his place in Phoenix.

But the trials and tribulations of the playoffs wore on Bell.

“The biggest thing that struck me at that time (in Martinsville) was that they kept saying I was going to do it,” Bell said of his parents. “’You’re going to do Phoenix. You are going to make the final. … So when I won the race, that was the only thing I could think of, my mum and dad were right and we did it, we made the Final 4.”

Bell often keeps his emotions in check, so such outbursts are rare, but Martinsville was special.

As they drove home from the race last Sunday evening, Bell’s wife Morgan was shaken by a sudden exclamation from her husband.

“He’s in the backseat going through all his text messages and going through this phone and out of nowhere he’s screaming at the top of his voice,” Morgan told NBC Sports.

Bell said it was “just adrenaline” that caused the reaction.

“It was a great moment, winning in Martinsville, and moving forward to where I am today is probably one of the greatest moments of my life,” Bell told NBC Sports. “It’s just going up the lowest of the lows in Martinsville and…right back to the top.”

But Bell’s performance under pressure is a trait of the 27-year-old from Norman, Oklahoma.

“He’s always been very, very good under extreme pressure,” Bell’s father, David, told NBC Sports.

David Bell saw it when he coached his son in junior basketball and their team played in the finals. While the team lost, Bell’s performance stood out, his father recalled. He went through Bell’s dirt racing experience. He won the Belleville Nationals midget race in 2013 and won the Chili Bowl Nationals in 2017, ’18 and ’19.

He also won the Camping World Truck Series title in 2017 and competed in the Xfinity Series championship race in 2018 and 2019.

He faced more pressure Friday in Phoenix when practice didn’t go as well — he was 20th on the speed chart. It felt like the team had the rest of the pitch where they wanted.

“It’s true,” said crew chief Adam Stevens with a smile. “We’re just setting the trap.”

Bell starts Sunday’s race 17th. With the way these playoffs have gone for him, it’s no surprise that he faces challenges in the finals.

After a first lap that saw him be the only playoff driver to finish in the top five in each of those three races, things got much tougher.

He blew a tire twice in Texas, with the second such incident having him hit the wall. At Talladega, he spun and was penalized for speeding on pit road, putting him in an inescapable situation at Charlotte Roval. Aided by a four-tire pit call by Stevens late in the race, Bell charged up the win to advance to lap three.

Bell called it the defining moment of his season so far.

“I think that says a lot about our team because it would have been very easy to drop the Roval, which we knew wouldn’t be a great race for us,” Bell said, noting Toyota’s struggles on course on road this season. “It turned out that it wasn’t a great race. We were back in half of the top 10 cars. The yellow flag came out and we were able to do what we had to do to win.

These good feelings did not last.

Trouble returned the following week in Texas in the opening race of Round 8. When Bubba Wallace fought back and destroyed Kyle Larson, Bell was hit by Larson’s car and finished the race. A week later, Bell finished 11th at Homestead. He entered Martinsville 33 points from the last transfer spot. Again, a late four-tire pit call from Stevens helped Bell win to qualify for Phoenix.

“I’m fully aware that I have the right guy on the stand, absolutely,” Bell said.

It’s exactly what Bell imagined when he was a kid.

“He never wavered,” Kathy Bell said of her son’s desire to race. “That was the only thing he wanted to be, a professional race car driver. His dad said, ‘You need a plan B, son,’ but he never had a plan B.

Kathy admits she didn’t want her son to race, but that changed one day.

“I was just praying for him,” Kathy said. “We had two older daughters and I’ve always wanted this little guy. So I finally got my little guy and he wants to get in a race car. I really didn’t want him to do that. I was praying about it. … I heard clear as a bell it’s my destiny for him. So I gave in and Dave said let’s go. So we let him start running.

About Ethel Partin

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