The 2018 NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway drew to a close on Wednesday, capping three days of media events with many of the top drivers in NASCAR as they prepare for the start of the new season in just two weeks.
Highlighting Day Three of the tour were 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Martin Truex, Jr., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion Christopher Bell and 2018 rookie-of-the-year contender Darrell Wallace, Jr.
Bell will not return to the Truck Series in 2018 to defend his title, instead moving on to a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 Toyota.
Bell has already made his mark in the NXS series – capturing his first series win in just his fifth-career start last October at Kansas Speedway – and after leading the truck series in victories in 2017 in addition to winnign the title, the expectations are high for his rookie season in the Xfinity Series.
“That’s cool that people believe in me that much,” said Bell. “But I’ve got a year of Xfinity ahead of me, and I’m going to focus part on making the Final Four at Homestead. That’s the same goal that I had going into last year, and really as long as you’re competitive and can capitalize on that and win some races, you know, that sets you up for the year. That allows you to – if you win one race, you’re in the Chase, and then if you win multiple races you can start building on those points, and it makes getting to Homestead a lot easier.”
The first hurdle for Bell will be the season-opener at Daytona, which will mark his first-career Xfinity restrictor-plate race – a steep learning curve for any rookie.
“Just going to study film,” Bell said of his preparations for running Daytona. “I’ve got a lot of – (Daniel) Suárez was my teammate, Kyle Busch was my boss, Erik (Jones) was my teammate, so I’ve got a lot of guys that have kind of done the same path as I have, or at least been there, done that in both divisions, so I’ll rely on those guys to tell me what I need going into Daytona, and yeah. But the big thing for me will be studying film and trying to learn as much as I can.”
The Cup Series rookie class for 2018 includes 2017 Xfinity Series Champion William Byron driving for Hendrick Motorsports and Wallace, Jr., who takes over the iconic No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Wallace’s 2017 race season in the Xfinity Series ended abruptly in June when sponsorship issues forced Roush-Fenway Racing to pull the plug, but Wallace got a chance to showcase his skills in the Cup Series when he was tapped as a fill-in driver for Aric Almirola, who was sidelined with a back injury.
Wallace’s four-race stint in the Cup Series was seen as an audition of sorts, so it was little surprise when Wallace was named as the new driver of the No. 43 car for 2018.
In addition to driving for “the King”, Richard Petty, Wallace hopes to be enjoying the benefit of the new technical alliance between Petty and Richard Childress Racing, including a move from Ford to Chevrolet.
“Walking through the RCR shop where they’re building our cars, and a couple of RCR employees were pushing a car around, just bare skin, body on it, and on the back glass it had a “Wallace,” and I’m like, that’s cool. That’s mine right there,” said Wallace. “I got my crew chief to send a picture over yesterday of my name on the door now, so it’s the real deal. It’s here.
“I don’t think there’s any unrealistic goals (this season). Our realistic goal is to win a championship. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t say that. And so I know what it takes to I have an idea of what it takes to win a championship, and we have to capitalize and minimize mistakes and capitalize on our good days and try to get the most out of that.”
One of the drivers closing out the final day of the media tour was newly-crowned Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Martin Truex, Jr., who finally captured that elusive first series title after coming tantalizingly close just two years earlier.
And although there hasn’t been a repeat champion in the last eight seasons, Truex feels his team has all the right tools in place to win another title.
“It’s hard (to repeat). You know, I think more so now than even before his time, it’s hard because this (playoff) format,” said Truex, Jr. “You know, I mean, years ago we had normal point race all year long. I would have to say that is way, way easier to repeat than what we have now currently, without any shadow of a doubt. It’s just going to get harder, and that stat is going to probably live on for it has potential to live on for a long, long time, and it’s going to get harder to repeat.”
“I feel zero pressure at all. I feel nothing. I’m so like like I’m so confident. I feel like we can just honestly, I really feel like we can go and start the season right where we left off, just pick up where we left off and continue as a team as we’ve done the last couple years of just we know what to work on, and we’re just going to keep going down that road and hopefully have more success, but you never know. We’ll just have to see how it all goes, but I’m not feeling any pressure, I’m not anxious at all, and I’ll be ready when we get to Daytona.”