Timothy Peter Bell Jr. – better known as TJ – has been racing since he was eight years old, starting in go-karts and progressing through the ranks of open wheel, sports cars and street stocks until he finally reached the pinnacle of NASCAR racing Saturday night at Darlington Raceway (May 7).
Bell, a Truck Series veteran took the next step by making his Sprint Cup debut, qualifying an impressive 33rd with a brand new team before transmission issues ended his race after 67 laps. And while the night ended in the darkness of a Darlington garage, the future is bright for the 30-year old whose new, single-car program announced a three-race primary sponsor Monday that could be the springboard towards a full-time effort down the road.
Where did the new team come from, what are its plans and does Bell feel he’s ready for this challenge? After practice was stopped for rain on Friday at Darlington, Frontstretch columnist Mike Neff was able to get those answers and more from the sport’s newest Sprint Cup freshman, running the No. 50 Toyota for returning Cup owner Joe Falk.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch: Tell us about your car for this weekend.
TJ Bell: We had this car at the NASCAR Tech Center in Concord to be certified on Monday, got it back Monday afternoon and had it at Rockingham for testing on Tuesday.
Neff: Seriously? You guys turned the car around overnight to go testing?
Bell: Yes, we did. The guys worked really hard and we had a good test at Rockingham.
Neff: Where did you get the car from?
Bell: We bought it from an established race team.
Neff: Your car owner is Joe Falk. He owned a race team at the Cup level before, from 1997-2000. Is this team using the same shop that he used to utilize?
Bell: No, this is a brand new race team. We’re putting stuff together right now and don’t really have a shop right now but we’re getting there.
Neff: Tell me about your sponsor, BanditChippers.com.
Bell: We’ve been working with them for some time to try and get them into the Truck Series. When this Cup deal came together, they jumped on it. We’ve got another sponsor announcement coming on Monday that we’re pretty excited about.
Editor’s Note: Monday’s announcement included the addition of electronic cigarette manufacturer Green Smoke for at least three races this season starting with the Coca-Cola 600.
Neff: What does your schedule look like for the rest of the year?
Bell: We’re going to race Charlotte for sure. After that, we’re race to race depending on sponsorship. (No start-and-parking).
Neff: Will you still be in the No. 50 in the Truck Series?
Bell: Yes, I’ll still be driving the Truck for MAKE Motorsports (a different program than Falk’s).
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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