MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 8, 2016) – As the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway for the final race of the Round of 6, every driver but one has prior experience at the one-mile track. Christopher Bell will be making his Phoenix debut, but the talented youngster knows that with Kyle Busch Motorsports’ (KBM) history of success at the Arizona track and the No. 4 team’s success on short tracks this year that if he does his job behind the wheel he’ll have the opportunity to race for a championship next week at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway.
KBM pulled off a Truck Series four-peat at Phoenix from 2011 to 2014. Owner-driver Kyle Busch got the winning streak started in 2011 when he led 107 of 150 laps on the one-mile track before it was repaved and reconfigured later that season. In 2012, Brian Scott lead a race-high 48 laps and outdueled up-and-coming talent Kyle Larson in the closing laps to pick up the victory in the Truck Series’ first event at the revamped venue.
The following year, Erik Jones put his name on the racing map when at the time he became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR National Series event after leading a race-high 84 laps en route to the historic victory. What did Jones do for an encore? In 2014, he made it back-to-back victories leading 114 of 126 laps before an electrical failure shortened the race. The Michigan native nearly made it three in a row last season when he led 106 of the first 120 laps before Matt Crafton got loose underneath him battling for the lead off Turn 4 on a late restart and sent Jones caroming into the frontstretch wall.
Bell, an open-wheel dirt standout, has quickly adapted to the short tracks in the Truck Series since making his debut at Iowa Speedway last June. In 10 career starts on tracks 1.25-miles or shorter in distance, including two dirt races at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, he has posted two wins, seven top-five, nine top-10 finishes and an average finish of 5.3. He earned his spot in the inaugural Truck Series Chase this year with his victory at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., a flat, 1.25-mile track, and his best two finishes thus far in the playoffs have come at short tracks; a runner-up finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon to kickoff the playoffs and a fourth-place finish at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in the first race of the Round of 6.
The 21-year-old enters the biggest race of his young career with no prior experience at Phoenix, so he has turned to last year’s driver of the No. 4 Tundra, Jones, for tutelage. Bell has picked Jones’ brain this week on how to get around the unique one-mile track and hopes that by listening to the two-time Phoenix Truck Series winner and taking notes from watching tapes of past races he can have a strong run on Friday night and earn one of the three spots remaining in the Championship 4.
If Bell is able to advance to the Championship 4 with a strong run Friday night at Phoenix, he’ll once again do his best to follow in Jones’ shadow next week at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway as he aims to become the second straight driver of KBM’s No. 4 Tundra to be crowned Truck Series champion.
Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 4 NCWTS Toyota Tundra:
What do you know about Phoenix heading into your first start there?
“I’ve spent a lot of time watching film of recent truck races from Phoenix and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that KBM always brings fast Tundras there. They won four straight races there and had the fastest truck again last year until Erik (Jones) got taken out in a late accident. So, I know that we’re going to have a fast Toyota Tundra and we just need to make sure we go there and dot our I’s and cross our T’s and if we can do that we’ll be racing for a championship at Homestead.”
Does your success at the flat tracks this season give you confidence heading into Phoenix?
“Other than the first Martinsville race this year we’ve been really fast at the short, flat tracks and I have to give the credit to Jerry and all the guys on this No. 4 team for preparing really fast Tundras. We earned our spot in the Chase by winning at Gateway and in the Chase we’ve had really strong runs at New Hampshire and Martinsville. Now we head to Phoenix, which is a track where KBM has been really dominant at, so I expect that we’ll be really fast again this week. I feel we are in a good enough position points wise that if we just go out and have a solid day and not make any mistakes then we should advance.”
Jerry Baxter, crew chief of the No. 4 NCWTS Toyota Tundra:
How does the stress level heading into this elimination race compare to the last elimination race at Talladega?
“I feel like going into this race the stress level is less than both the elimination race at Talladega and the first race this round at Martinsville — those two races worried me. I felt confident that we were going to be good at Texas and I feel confident that we are going to be good at Phoenix. Since this will be Christopher’s first time racing at Phoenix we’ve done a lot of things to help him prepare. We watched video of the past races at Phoenix and we also went to the simulator this week and made a bunch of laps. Erik (Jones) is really good at Phoenix, so I know Christopher has talked to him this week and picked his brain on what it takes to be fast there. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief No. 9 Tundra) has always had a really good setup at Phoenix, so we are going to unload with his setup for practice. So, I’m not really that stressed at all because I feel like we are really prepared for this race. With the success that we’ve had on this type of track this season, our whole team is confident that we’re going to have another fast Toyota Tundra on Friday night.”
Christopher Bell’s No. 4 Toyota Tundra:
KBM-25: The No. 4 Toyota Racing team will unload chassis KBM-25 for Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway. It’s the same Tundra Bell drove to victory at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., earlier this season and scored a runner-up finish with in the first race of The Chase at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
KBM NCWTS @ Phoenix International Raceway
- KBM drivers have collected four wins, one pole, 496 laps led, six top-five and nine top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 10.3 across 13 starts in the desert
- Owner-driver Kyle Busch collected the team’s first win in 2011 at the one-mile track, Brian Scott claimed the win in 2012 and Erik Jones won consecutive races in 2013 & 2014
The Book on Baxter:
Veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter is in his fourth season atop the pit box for KBM. Since joining KBM, Baxter’s drivers have posted eight wins, three poles, 1368 laps led, 33 top-five and 55 top-10 finishes across 88 starts. The California native spent the 2015 season calling the shots for KBM’s No. 51 team, which collected two wins, 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes with drivers Daniel Suarez (12 starts), Matt Tifft (six starts), Kyle Busch (three starts), and Christopher Bell (one start) behind the wheel. In addition to his eight wins at KBM, he boasts one other Truck Series win (Cale Gale, 2012) and one NASCAR XFINITY Series win (David Reutimann, 2007).
Baxter’s drivers have collected one top-five and three top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 9.2 across four starts at Phoenix. Daniel Suarez finished fourth in last year’s event with Baxter calling the shots.