By Dustin Albino

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Over the offseason, Christopher Bell knew he needed to do some homework when it comes to competing at superspeedways. It was an area that the No. 20 team lacked in 2022.

That’s exactly what Bell, his crew chief Adam Stevens and his spotter Stevie Reeves did.

“We did a bunch of studying last year on where we stacked up with the field on regular racetrack performance to superspeedway performance, and we were the worst,” Bell said. “We definitely wanted to improve on that and today was a great start.”

Rewind to the final lap of Thursday evening’s first Bluegreen Vacations Duel race, and it was Bell that was the first driver to make a move. While he had his Toyota teammate Bubba Wallace pushing him, he was naturally more aggressive, and lost out on winning to Joey Logano by a few feet.

Bell was comfortable with his car throughout the week at Daytona International Speedway. His No. 20 Toyota looked to be the quickest of the Toyotas, despite turning the 21st fastest time in single-car qualifying.

In the draft, though, it was a hot rod.

“I felt good,” Bell noted. “My car drove really, really nice. I don‘t know if everyone‘s cars were driving as good as mine, but we were really comfortable. I feel like we could push anyone or get pushed as hard as I wanted.”

During Sunday’s Daytona 500, Bell was strong early, and was the first non-Hendrick Motorsports car to lead a lap, 13 laps in. But after pit stops, he dropped to 26th at the end of the opening stage. By the end of the second stage, he earned a solo stage point, placing 10th.

During the final stage, Bell avoided the late-race chaos and worked his way up to being in the mix for the win. On what turned out to be the final restart, he was third of three dirt racers at the front of the field, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson sharing the front row.

Over the final two laps, Bell stayed loyal to Stenhouse’s back bumper. And when Larson got turned sideways on the last lap, he was scored third when the yellow flag flew.

RT to congratulate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on his #DAYTONA500 win!

— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 19, 2023

It’s his best finish in 13 superspeedway starts — 15 including two at Atlanta last year.

“If you would have told me pre-race that I was going to run third, I would have jumped up and down and been smiling ear-to-ear,” Bell said post race. “I‘m very happy. I‘m very, very thankful that I could get this Rheem and DeWalt Toyota Camry a good solid finish, but just so close to a crown jewel. I feel like if it would have stayed green, I would have been on offense — but who knows.”

Bell admitted that superspeedway racing has been his Achilles heel over the last couple of years. He doesn’t enjoy superspeedway racing, going as far as to say he “hates” it.

By finishing second in the Duel and earning 35 points in the Daytona 500, Bell, who many people in the industry believe is destined for a breakout season, is sitting fourth in the championship standings.

“This is the best I‘ve ever started a Cup season, so bring on the next race,” he said.

The next race is Auto Club Speedway, where Bell won the pole a season ago. Then the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Bell was running inside the top 10 in the fall before he was collected in a wreck where Bubba Wallace intentionally wrecked Kyle Larson. Then there’s Phoenix Raceway, which the No. 20 team was competing for the championship at three months ago.

“I would have told you that Auto Club, Vegas and Phoenix were going to be good races for us and then Daytona,” Bell said. “But Daytona turned out pretty good.”

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