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Don’t call Christopher Bell NASCAR’s closer but he is clutch

NASCAR: 4EVER 400 presented by Mobil 1
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Closer is retiring at the end of the season but maybe the NASCAR Cup Series has the heir apparent to Kevin Harvick and his reputation in the form of Christopher Bell.

Think about it.

At least over the course of the two-year NextGen era, Bell has developed a penchant for winning when it matters the most. The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team was at risk of falling below the playoff cutline in the regular season last year when they broke through at New Hampshire.

Facing must-win odds at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in the playoffs last year, Bell won. More than likely needing a win at Martinsville to advance to the championship race last year, Bell won. Bell has a love-hate relationship with finding himself in insurmountable odds type of scenarios but this is what they do in the moments that matter the most.

He and crew chief Adam Stevens closed out again on Sunday at Homestead to advance to the Cup Series championship race. They’re closers, even if he isn’t The New Closer.

“I am proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish I guess is the right way to say it,” Bell said. “But I don’t think that anybody will be The Closer. That’s Kevin’s motto, that’s what he did.

“Hopefully I’m Christopher Bell.”

Again, call them whatever you want but you might even be able to call them champions in two weeks at Phoenix Raceway.

By the halfway point of the 4Ever 400, Bell wasn’t even thinking of winning of the race.

They were at the tail end of the lead lap, with a car that was absolutely ill, and Bell simply wanted to find some way to secure a good points day. Candidly, he didn’t even think that was possible.

At one point, Stevens told Bell to ‘fight hard to stay on this lead lap,’ to which Bell sarcastically responded, ‘okay, maybe I’ll try that.’ Stevens worked with Kyle Busch for eight years across the Xfinity and Cup Series so he has certainly dealt with much worse.

“That was me boiling over with frustration,” Bell said. “I try not to do that. I try to keep my temper as controlled as I could.

“But in that moment, I did smart off to him. I apologized to Adam for that. His old drivers probably gave him a lot worse, so I shouldn’t feel too bad.”

He said that with a laugh, but no way did he really think they could turn that car around.

“It was just insane the difference that the car was,” Bell said.

Keep in mind, Bell already isn’t fond of Homestead at this stage of his career so he still isn’t sure what he wants from a feel standpoint, especially now with the radically different NextGen car.

“It just completely fell apart in the second stage,” Bell said. “I took off and the balance was not good at all. The long run was terrible. I completely died on the long run, almost went a lap down. I’m sure everybody on the 20 team was extremely frustrated, were ready to throw the towel in.

“A couple good adjustments and a big, big break with the yellow flag, for sure. If that yellow flag doesn’t happen, I certainly don’t win, and I probably don’t even sniff the top 10. We did catch a huge break in the third stage.”

That caution, for Kyle Larson drilling the sand barrels, gave them another crack at the setup. And the lesson learned for Stevens from Bell is that if you give him a car that is close, he will pick the team up and do the rest.

“Bell is a generational talent in this sport,” Stevens said. “He is as good as they come. He’s still learning. We’re still learning each other as a team. If you get him close, he can get the job done. We’ve proven it time and time again.

“We got to do a better job as a team and as a company keeping him in contention. When we do that, he’s able to claw his way up there and make stuff happen like the great ones do.”

To make things happen, to close out, kind of like The Closer.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.