Christopher Bell and the No. 4 Toyota Tundra Racing team head to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway leading reigning champion Johnny Sauter in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular season standings with three races remaining before the playoffs start. Bell will be in search of his series-leading fifth win of the season on Wednesday night, a win that would go a long way in his effort to earn the much-coveted 15 playoff points that are awarded to the regular season champ.
Over the last four races, two wins and a runner-up finish have helped Bell make a 79-point swing in the regular season standings on Sauter. He entered the series' 10th race of the season at Kentucky Speedway with a 42-point deficit and now enters the 13th race of the season this week with a 37-point lead. After spending nine weeks in the runner-up position in the championship standings, Bell moved ahead of Sauter with his victory at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., two races ago. The Oklahoma native nearly made it two wins in a row last week at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, but had to settle for a runner-up finish behind former Kyle Busch Motorsports' (KBM) driver Darrell Wallace Jr.
The talented wheelman showed he has the speed necessary to conquer "The Last Great Colosseum" in last year's event, but wasn't able to pull off the victory. After starting from the fifth position, he made his way to the front of the field just before a competition caution at lap 41. Bell would remain out front for 100 of the next 101 laps, stretching his lead to over four seconds at one point. With 58 laps remaining in the event he was in a side-by-side battle with KBM teammate Daniel Suarez shortly after a restart and ended up spinning. After pitting for four fresh tires, he restarted from the 12th position with 52 laps remaining and would end the night with a seventh-place finish.
The 22-year-old driver enters this year's event at Bristol as a more polished talent. In addition to leading the Truck Series point standings, he also leads NASCAR's third division in a majority of the statistical categories, including wins (four), poles (three), driver rating (118.2), playoff points (24), average starting position (4.9), average finish (5.3), laps led (521) and fastest laps run (232).
While the application of the PJ1 TrackBite will make the bottom the preferred groove in the first half of Wednesday night's race, when it comes down to the closing laps and the substance has worn off the winner will likely have to be able to run what Bell and other dirt racers refer to as "the bonus lane" -- high up against the wall. With nine dirt wins in addition to his four Truck Series victories this year, the driver No. 4 Toyota Tundra will be in a prime candidate to ride "the bonus lane" to the five bonus points awarded at the end of the night to the winner and will also help him inch a step closer to the 15 bonus points awarded at the end of the regular season.