TULSA, Okla.--Could this be the year Kyle Larson finally wins the Golden Driller?
Certainly, Larson has been solid since the team unloaded the No. 01 Mike Larson-KKM-Curb Agajanian midget on Monday.
In his preliminary race on Tuesday, he took the lead on Lap 6 and checked out for his fifth win on his qualifying night. On Saturday, he will start in his eighth A-Main in the last 10 years.
There’s just one thing standing in his way—Christopher Bell.
“There’s 350 people in this building, and he’s head over heels better than everybody including myself,” Larson said. “You could put me second best in here and I still don’t really feel like I’m to his level—or close to it.
“He’s really, really good. Bell is someone you’ll have to deal with for the whole 55 laps.”
Over the last two years, not only has Bell won the Chili Bowl Nationals, he’s won Turkey Night, he’s won the Gateway Nationals and he won DuQuoin in 2017. While Larson pretty much owns the Down Under action at Western Springs, Bell broke through with a win in the 50-lap finale on Jan. 5.
Once again, Larson was crowned King of the Springs, but even after flipping his midget, Bell remained in the hunt. He finished second, .270-seconds behind Larson. Did Larson’s victories at Western Springs elevate his confidence?
“I would say normally it would but when he flips mid-race and still comes back to almost win it, it still kind of hurts your confidence,” Larson said. “It was kind of nice to beat him a couple of nights in New Zealand, but at the same time we were in different equipment and in this, we are in the same stuff.
“Maybe I’m just making excuses for him. It’s nice to go to New Zealand and get laps. It kind of knocks the rust off a little bit because I don’t get to race the midget a whole bunch throughout the year. It’s been a long time since I beat Christopher in anything, I guess, on dirt.”
Larson seems to grasp changing track conditions quickly. He’ll study the track between races and adapts by finding where the dirt suits his driving style. But he doesn’t feel it gives him an advantage against the full-time open wheel racers—or Bell for that matter.
“Most people—and especially most people that will be in your event on Saturday—they’re really good at reading track conditions and adjusting on the fly,” Larson said. “I feel like when I was doing this every night, I was a lot better at that stuff, at moving around at the right times.
“I feel like now, when I race Tyler Courtney or Christopher, that’s an area where they're a little bit better than me. I try to push myself to be better and look around the race track more to see how lines are changing and see if I can make anything else go. You always try to be better.”
Yes, Larson will have to be at his best come Saturday in order to add his name to the list of 20 Chili Bowl victors who have claimed the Golden Driller over the last 33 years—including Bell.
“I’ve got zero Drillers in my trophy case, and I would say he’s the favorite for sure,” Larson said. You just look at his track recon, not just in this building but at any race track in a midget. His win percentage is crazy over the last four years.
“I would definitely say he’s the favorite anywhere he goes in a midget right now.”