NASCAR Watkins Glen Auto Racing

Christopher Bell (20) leads Kurt Busch as they turn to the Esses during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Watkins Glen, N.Y., on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021. Bell rides eighth in the current NASCAR Cup Series points standings.

Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell are considered longshots to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship and also underdogs in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Heading into 500 laps of mayhem on the high-banked short track, Bell is in the best position of the three. Besides driving the No. 20 Toyota for one of the sport’s premier organizations in Joe Gibbs Racing, Bell is currently eighth in the driver points.

He is 17 points ahead of Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, who are currently tied for 12th as Saturday’s race is the cut-off in the playoffs, where the 16 drivers racing for a championship will be whittled down to the round of 12.

Bell is more of an underdog for his lack of Cup experience than the car he drives. No matter what car you’re in, the second-year Cup driver said the racing in the playoffs provides something different.

“Last year, Kevin Harvick looked like a sure lock to get to the final four and he didn’t make it,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen at the end of the season.”

Bell has a little advantage on the rest of the field. He recently got to test NASCAR’s Next Gen car at Bristol. He mentioned how it seemed strange to see the white concrete after the track was covered in dirt the last time he visited.

Still, he loves racing on the short track where he won the Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race in 2019.

“Bristol is one of my favorite tracks whether it’s concrete or dirt and I can’t wait to get back there,” he said. “A lot of us are going into Bristol looking for a good run, but it’s a place you can get into trouble quick. It’s a demanding race track on the drivers, the teams, the equipment, so I think it will be full of drama.”

Reddick, driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, was the last driver to qualify for the playoffs on points. He is currently five points behind Busch and Almirola and 13 points ahead of William Byron.

The second-year driver is still looking for his first career Cup win, but also has an Xfinity win at the “Last Great Colosseum,” coming in the 2019 Food City 300.

McDowell, the winner of the Daytona 500, ranks last among the 16-driver field. At this point, the driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford needs a win to advance to the next round. He has the extra motivation of it being a home race for car owner Bob Jenkins, who lives in Dandridge.

Regardless of the position a driver is in, Bell said racing at Bristol is unlike anywhere else on the circuit.

“Bristol is unique. It rewards hard, aggressive driving, but at the same time, you have to be smart and patient,” he said. “You really have to think when you’re racing at Bristol.”

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Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press with a lifelong passion for motorsports. The father of two attended ETSU and served in the Tennessee Army National Guard.

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