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The secret weapon who could lead Bell to NASCAR Cup glory

Christopher Bell is a dark horse in this weekend's NASCAR Cup Series title-decider at Phoenix, but he's no stranger to pulling off shock victories with his back against the wall.

Watch: NASCAR aiming to vary race schedule in 2024, beyond

The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver has surprised many in how his wildly hot and cold playoff run ended in a shot at the championship. But, as impressive as he was inside the car, much of the credit should also go to the crew chief calling the shots.

Adam Stevens brought Bell to pit road late in the race at the Charlotte Roval, and Bell made use of those four fresh tyres by charging to victory. Round of 12 elimination was certain without that victory.

Three weeks later, he was in the same scenario again at Martinsville. Stevens called him to pit road, took four tyres, and Bell muscled his way to the front of the field to win, just as he had in the round before. Now, they have a legitimate shot at the championship this weekend.

This may all be new for Bell, but not for his crew chief. Stevens led soon-to-be-former JGR driver Kyle Busch, who will depart for Richard Childress Racing next year, to 28 Cup wins and five Championship 4 appearances. The pairing won the title in 2015 and 2019, and now a third crown is on the cards with Bell.

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Reflecting on Stevens' impact, 27-year-old Bell said: "He's a genius. He's the reason why we're here, for sure. I believe that we have the best team, and that stems from Adam."

A key aspect of their relationship is the trust involved. At Martinsville, it would have been just as sensible to try and stay out as Chase Briscoe did, hoping to steal the win with a track position grab. No matter the situation, Bell has always put his trust in that man atop the pit box.

"I never question him," said Bell. "Even at Martinsville, whenever we pitted for tyres, I think I restarted sixth, I felt a lot better winning at the road course (Charlotte Roval) whenever I was 12th with tyres than I did at Martinsville. I thought that one was going to be a lot harder.

"I never questioned him. That's his job. I think that's one thing we really do well: he lets me do my job, and I let him do his job."

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, DeWalt Toyota Camry and Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, ARK.io Chevrolet Camaro

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, DeWalt Toyota Camry and Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, ARK.io Chevrolet Camaro

Bell expects pit road to play a major role at Phoenix, just as it did in last year's finale. And that all starts with qualifying, which one can parlay into the best pit stall selection.

That's good news for Bell, who has been one of the best qualifiers in the Cup Series this year. He has the third highest average starting position among full-time drivers and is tied with Kyle Larson for the most poles (four).

"Yeah, it's huge," he said. "I think qualifying, while it does not mean a big deal for the race, I think it means a huge deal for pit selection.

"Winning the pole, the way it works out, just the Final 4 guys will pick first amongst themselves. Being the top qualifier and getting the number one pit stall is going to be a huge advantage."

Bell has been here before, at Charlotte and Martinsville, where it was win or nothing. That's exactly what Phoenix has come down to every single year since this format was introduced in 2014, and this combination of driver and crew chief have already proven their worth in those high-pressure situations. 

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