Joe Gibbs Racing made it official on Monday afternoon: Christopher Bell will pilot the No. 20 Toyota Camry in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
The 25-year-old is just past the midway point of his rookie Cup Series campaign, driving for Toyota Racing Development affiliated Leavine Family Racing. He has earned one top-5, and five top-10s. and is currently 20th in the championship standings through 22 appearances.
Leavine Family Racing announced last week that it would close at the end of the season, leaving Bell without a ride.
As per a clause in their contract, Toyota and Gibbs needed to provide Bell a Cup ride in 2021 or risk the driver exercising an opt-out clause allowing him to join another organization. Joe Gibbs Racing is the only competitive Toyota Cup Series program, leaving Bell nowhere else to go within the manufacturer.
As a result, Gibbs confirmed earlier in the week that it would not retain Erik Jones for next season, freeing up the No. 20 for its current top prospect.
"I’m so appreciative of the opportunity I have this year with LFR and I want to finish this season strong for Bob (Leavine) and everyone there," Bell said. "At the same time, I’m extremely excited to return to Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2021. It’s an organization I’m very comfortable with and have had a lot of success with."
Bell has spent the past six seasons within the Toyota development pipeline. Before transitioning to stock cars, Bell was a dirt midget prodigy with the TRD affiliated Keith Kunz Motorsports stable. He won three consecutive Chili Bowl Midget Nationals from 2017-19.
He spent two seasons in the Xfinity Series for Gibbs, claiming 15 victories, including a rookie record seven in 2018.
"We are excited to bring Christopher into our Cup Series program starting in 2021," said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. "He obviously had tremendous success in the Xfinity Series with us and we look forward to his return to JGR."
Like Bell, Jones had also been a prominent fixture in the Toyota development pipeline since 2013. With Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. all under multiyear contracts and with consistent sponsorship, the team ultimately choose to promote Bell at the expense of Jones.
Jones said he was "blindsided" over the weekend and felt as though he was close to an extension to remain behind the wheel of the No. 20. Jones is currently 17th in the championship standings and one position outside the provisional playoff cutoff. Chris Gayle is the current crew chief of the No. 20, having worked with Jones since his rookie season at Furniture Row Racing.
Bell has raced with crew chief Jason Ratcliff since their tenure in the Xfinity Series. While the team has not revealed its crew chief lineup, Ratcliff is expected to join Bell at the No. 20. Ratcliff previously served as crew chief for the No. 20 when it was piloted by veteran Matt Kenseth.