Expectations were high for Joe Gibbs Racing coming into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season after a strong 2020 campaign. Last year saw Denny Hamlin make the Championship 4 and Kyle Busch escape a winless season with a strong finish down the stretch. The other two JGR teams struggled a bit. Martin Truex Jr. had a down year in 2020 and Erik Jones was ultimately ousted from his ride for failing to live up to Joe Gibbs Racing’s high standards. Christopher Bell took over the No. 20 car starting this season to round out a formidable foursome for the Super Bowl-winning coach-turned-NASCAR team owner. 2021 proved to be a great year for JGR as all four drivers would qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs.
The following article continues a FlurrySports series that looks back on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season from the perspective of drivers and race teams. Read on for season reviews of the two more recent Joe Gibbs Racing signees, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell.
NASCAR Cup Series 2021 Season Reviews | Joe Gibbs Racing (Part II)
Martin Truex Jr. — No. 19
Martin Truex Jr. came into the NASCAR Cup Series season hoping to earn himself a Daytona 500 victory that has eluded him in the past. Unfortunately, he would lose that chance early in the race when teammate Christopher Bell got aggressive too early and took out a lot of contenders on Lap 14. He followed that up with a 12th place finish at the Daytona Road Course. His first top five came at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he finished third.
Martin Truex Jr. Builds Momentum Off First Top-5
After a sixth-place finish at Las Vegas, Martin Truex Jr. earned his first win of the season at Phoenix Raceway to lock himself into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Just three races later, he won again at Martinsville, a track that he has dominated in recent years. Truex continued his strong spring portion of the schedule by scoring his third win of the season with a dominant performance at Darlington Raceway.
Spring Success Turns Into Summer Slump
After Darlington, Martin Truex Jr. went on a bit of a dry spell. The No. 19 car failed to finish inside the top-10 at any oval track until Atlanta. He was at least able to finish third at Sonoma and ninth at Road America between then and his Darlington win. His last top-5 in the regular season came on another road course at Watkins Glen. Michigan served as his final top-10 before the start of the NASCAR Playoffs. He would enter the playoffs with the two-seed thanks to his three race wins and extra playoff points accumulated.
Martin Truex Jr. Thrives Early in Playoffs as Darkhorse
After a fourth-place finish at Darlington in the Southern 500, Martin Truex Jr. went out and won at Richmond for his first win since May. The result also made him the second Joe Gibbs Racing driver to punch his ticket into the Round of 12 following Denny Hamlin. Truex was able to coast through the Round of 12 on points with finishes of fourth at Las Vegas, 12th at Talladega, and 29th at the Charlotte ROVAL.
Truex Survives Adversity to Reach Championship 4
In the Round of 8, Martin Truex Jr. started badly by getting caught up in a wreck with Daniel Suarez at Texas. the No. 19 team managed to rebound the following week at Kansas to finish seventh. Going into the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville, Truex was still below the cutline. He was able to earn enough stage points and finish fourth-to advance on to the Championship 4.
Truex was leading the NASCAR Cup Championship Race late when a caution came out. He lost the lead after Kyle Larson‘s pit crew got him out front and could not get around him to reclaim the point down the stretch. Truex had to settle for second in the race and in the final standings, coming up just short of his second NASCAR title.
Can Truex Earn One More Championship Down the Stretch of His Career?
Martin Truex Jr. finished out the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with four wins, 13 total tops-5s, 20 total top-10s. Despite his summer slump, he still wound up among the top of the sport in average finish with a 12.0 mark for the entire season. However, Truex is running out of time in his NASCAR career. He is now 41 years old and will turn 42 during the 2022 season. He will be back in the No. 19 with the goal of scoring a second series championship during his twilight years for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Christopher Bell — No. 20
Christopher Bell embarked on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season driving for a new race team. Bell came over from the defunct Levine Family Racing team to drive the No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. He took the place of Erik Jones who was let go by JGR following the 2020 season.
After Daytona 500 Disappointment, Bell Earns Stunning Win on Road Course
In Christopher Bell’s first race in the No. 20 car, he got a little too aggressive early in the Daytona 500. This caused a massive pile-up on Lap 14 of the race. He still managed to finish 16th when it was all said and done.
In the following race at the Daytona Road Course, Bell bounced back in a big way. He took his new tires from the last pit stop and pulled off a late-race pass for the lead to earn his first career win in the NASCAR Cup Series. The win was widely considered to be an upset and also clinched Bell’s spot into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Christopher Bell Overshadows Disappointing Bristol Dirt Race with Strong Results Elsewhere
Christopher Bell was able to build off of his Daytona Road Course win with a strong west coast swing. He finished seventh at Las Vegas and ninth at Phoenix. In the Bristol Dirt Race, Bell was one of the favorites along with Kyle Larson thanks to his prior dirt track experience. Unfortunately, his day ended early when the two of them got caught up in a wreck. He rebounded in each of the next two weeks with a seventh-place run at Martinsville and a fourth-place showing at Richmond.
Summer Portion of Schedule Not Kind to the No. 20 Team
The next seven races would be a rough stretch for Christopher Bell. The sophomore NASCAR Cup Series driver managed zero finishes higher than 14th and fell all the way down to 15th in the points standings. Nashville Superspeedway marked his first top-10 result since Richmond.
After struggling in the doubleheader at Pocono, Bell was able to finish second at Road America. He scored an eighth-place finish at Atlanta and was almost able to come back and win at New Hampshire, but the race was called a few laps early due to darkness. Bell would add one more top-10 at Watkins Glen and was ultimately the 12-seed going into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
After Surviving Opening Round, Christopher Bell Falls in Round of 12
Christopher Bell began the playoffs by finishing 20th at Darlington and third at Richmond to put him in a relatively safe spot going into the Round of 16 cut-off race at Bristol. It was a good thing he did too, as he cut down a tire late. Even so, the disappointing 29th-place finish did not prevent him from joining each of his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in advancing on to the next round.
In the opening Round of 12 race at Las Vegas, Bell had a loose wheel and could not rebound, finishing 24th. The rain-shortened race at Talladega helped the No. 20 jump up in the standings courtesy of a fifth-place finish. However, Bell still remained below the cutline going into the Charlotte ROVAL. He was unable to get the points he needed to move on and was eliminated. Bell finished out the 2021 season by adding another top-5 finish at Texas and two more top-10s over the final three races.
Bell Will Aim for More Consistency in 2022
In his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Christopher Bell accumulated one win, seven top-5s, 16 top-10s, and an average finishing position of 15.8. The lack of consistency hurt Bell and the No. 20 team during this NASCAR Cup Series season. With a year under his belt at the new organization, Bell will strive for stronger showings on a weekly basis in 2022.