Christopher Bell began decompressing his fire suit and plugging a microphone into a television session with Fox when Jimmie Johnson appeared and joked with the production team.
"With the rookies, you have to put it on your leg personally," Johnson told a staff member.
Bell laughed at the moment, the seven-time NASCAR champion after leaving the sport having fun with a rookie promoted as one of his future brightest stars.
Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Bell were the Big Three of NASCAR's No. 2 series, a trio of pilots who identified themselves as future stars who ran across the field and ran towards the championship.
"I have run against them more than I have run against anyone else," Bell said.
The next time they face each other face to face will be at the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Reddick, Custer and Bell combined to get 21 wins from 33 Xfinity Series races last season, and won nine in a row, on the way to the Cup Series promotions.
Checkered flags, bragging rights, rookie of the year award, and pressure to keep high profile jobs are at stake. Everyone hopes to finish at the top of their class.
"I hope to smoke them," Bell said.
Bell, Reddick and Custer are the axes of a rookie camp that also include Quin Houff, John Hunter Nemechek and Brennan Poole. It is the best NASCAR class in years and the next great hope of the sport that this youth movement marks the beginning of a new generation of future champions and fan favorites.
NASCAR rookie classes have produced few stars in recent years. Daniel Hemric had only two results in the top 10 last season and finished 25th in the standings leading Richard Childress Racing to win the best rookie award in a disappointing class. Your reward? He was abandoned by RCR and will run a part-time schedule this season in the Xfinity Series.
Where have you gone, Brett Moffitt? The 2015 winner has made only seven Cup starts since winning and none since 2017. Kevin Conway, Andy Lally and Stephen Leicht were among the last disappointing winners in the last decade, no longer with full-time Cup games at NASCAR .
The winner of the Daytona 500 pole, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is a former rookie prize winner. So are Chase Elliott, the winner of Busch Clash, Erik Jones, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
The Xfinity series championship has not guaranteed much success either. Daniel Suarez, the 2016 champion, is already in his third team. 2015 champion Chris Buescher has a rain-shortened Cup victory, and 2017 champion William Byron is 0 for 72 starts.
Trevor Bayne was the last driver to win the Daytona 500 in his first outing, and he never won again.
Reddick, 24, won the last two Xfinity series championships and will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet this season for Richard Childress Racing. Reddick has two Cup starts, including a final in 27th place for RCR in the Daytona 500 last season. He finished ninth in his second career in Kansas.
"You can't make the mistakes that you can usually get away with with a good team in the Xfinity series," Reddick said. "You can be very fast, but that does not mean you will win races."
Bell, 25, won the 2017 Truck Series championship and thrived as a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR's loaded lineup of Cup champions Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., twice winner of the Daytona 500 Miles Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, left Bell without a trip. JGR cultivated Bell, who grew up competing on dirt tracks in Oklahoma, to No. 95 Toyota and Leavine Family Racing.
"I am grateful to have been on the trip," Bell said. "I hope we can go out and make everyone proud."
Custer, 22, took Suárez's trip at Ford No. 41 at Stewart-Haas Racing and has consistently won. The son of Stewart-Haas Racing executive, Joe Custer, grew up around the racecourse. He started running when he was 5 years old and quickly rose to the Truck Series. He became the youngest winner in a NASCAR national series race in New Hampshire in his seventh truck race in 2014. He was 16, 7 months and 28 days old.
He joins the best team of all rookies, added to an alignment that includes veterans Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer.
"I talked a lot with Kevin through my Xfinity stuff, and he has been extremely helpful and one of the most helpful people I've talked to," said Custer. "But even at our post-practice meeting with Clint and Aric, I ask these guys for advice, and they are also extremely open, so if I can get the advice of any of those guys, it will be huge."
© 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed.