DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After a violent flip during the offseason while racing midgets in New Zealand, Christopher Bell has largely shelved his dirt-track racing schedule for the time being.
Bell was scheduled to compete in three sprint car events prior to the 62nd annual Daytona 500, but nixed running in those races to keep his focus on the first race of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
The Norman, Okla., native ran as high as second in the closing stages of The Great American Race, but was ultimately collected in one of the late-race pileups that marred the finish at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
As for his dirt plans, Bell explained during Daytona 500 Media Day last week that his Western Springs Speedway accident was part of the impetus for him to keep his focus on his NASCAR duties, at least in the short term.
The hectic schedule surrounding the Daytona 500 was another contributing factor.
“After I crashed in New Zealand, I decided to put my dirt racing on hold for a minute,” Bell told reporters.
“Really it’s just a scheduling conflict,” Bell continued. “For me, I was originally planning on running Volusia (Sunday), East Bay (Monday), (and) East Bay (Tuesday). When I started looking at the details of it, I’m like, ‘man, this is my first Cup race weekend. I really need to focus on that.’ So I just decided to skip Florida, and unfortunately, the dirt racing doesn’t really start again until later on in the year.”
Asked if his decision was meant to give a positive message to his NASCAR team, Leavine Family Racing, Bell offered an affirmative response.
“The last that I talked to the team about it, they were giving me (the) approval to go do it,” said Bell of racing on the dirt in Florida. “But I felt like I owed it to them to show them that this is my job and I am solely focused on the Daytona 500, (and) starting my Cup season out right.”
Though he didn’t race, Bell did go to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., on Feb. 9 for the final race of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series’ opening weekend.
Bell was a spectator for the event won by Shark Racing’s Logan Schuchart.
“I’m so much of a fan of the sport, and it was a great race. I got to see a great race,” Bell said. “That kind of filled my satisfaction a little bit (even though he wasn’t driving).”
In looking back at his Western Springs incident, Bell noted that it was one of the tougher hits he’s taken.
“Yeah, I’ve crashed a couple times that hard,” recalled Bell. “Not very many, but a couple times.”
Looking ahead to the future, Bell confirmed that he will return to dirt racing, but it likely won’t be until mid-April at the earliest.
“I would imagine you’ll be able to see me somewhere Easter weekend,” he said. “I haven’t pinpointed a race yet, but Easter weekend I’ll probably be back somewhere.”
In the meantime, for fans of the three-time Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals champion, they’ll have to tune in on Sundays to the NASCAR Cup Series in order to see their favorite driver in action.
As he’s shown and said, the dirt will have to wait for a little while.