Kyle Larson gets coveted Chili Bowl win, denies Christopher Bell fourth straight

Kyle Larson gets coveted Chili Bowl win, denies Christopher Bell fourth straight
Brendon Bauman

TULSA, Okla. – It was fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Kyle Larson.

In the process, Larson denied Christopher Bell a major career milestone.

But all that mattered to Larson was a win Saturday night in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, a victory that last year eluded him by the thinnest of margins.

Driving his own car—a departure from his customary ride with Keith Kunz Motorsports—Larson overtook Bell on Lap 39 and led the rest of the way at Tulsa Expo Raceway.

In claiming the long-awaited victory, Larson ended Bell’s streak of consecutive Chili Bowl wins at three, one short of tying Kevin Swindell’s record four straight. Larson also ended owner Keith Kunz’s string of five straight victories in midget racing’s marquee event.

A full-time NASCAR Cup driver with Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson reveled in his victory on the fifth-mile dirt track. It was especially sweet after he lost the 2019 race on a last-lap pass from Bell.

“It’s a range of emotions, 365 days later,” Larson said. “I’m sorry NASCAR, I’m sorry Daytona, but this is the biggest effing race I’ve ever won. I hope to win Daytona in a few weeks, but this is badass.”

Larson found enormous speed in his No. 01 midget after teaming with car builder/crew chief Paul Silva. Together they dominated the California swing to close out the USAC season, but the crown jewel was the Chili Bowl.

“I can’t believe it,” said Larson, who turned 27 in July. “It’s taken me 13 years. That’s almost half my age. I’ve been coming here for 13 years, and it feels better than I can imagine.”

Driving for Tucker-Boat Motorsports (and close friend Chad Boat), Bell grabbed the lead on the first Lap and held a two-second advantage when Colby Copleand’s No. 27W Matt Wood Racing entry turned sideways and landed on the berm with 21 laps left to cause the second caution of the race.

After another quick caution for New Zealander Michael Pickens’ spin, Larson passed Bell for the lead with a ferocious slider through Turns 3 and 4, but a caution flew quickly on Lap 41 when Aaron Reutzel got together with Thomas Meseraull and both cars flipped.

Larson had a two-second lead of his own when polesitter Tanner Thorson slowed on Lap 46 and brought out the fifth caution. But after the final restart with 10 laps left, Larson pulled away to win by .801 seconds over his nemesis.

“I didn’t really want to lead the entire race, but it just worked out on the start where I was able to get out front,” Bell said. "I don’t know whether our tires bled down, or he was just better than us in that little 10-lap stint from about (Lap) 35 to 45, but in the last stint, I was able to stay with him and it was just a matter of who made mistakes, and he didn’t make any mistakes this year.

“The track was really treacherous, but I’m really proud that me and my buddy Chad got to come over here and run second. Running second at the Chili Bowl sucks, but I’m really proud for all of our partners at iRacing, Pristine Auction and Toyota. These guys give me and Chad the tools we need to perform, and this was a blast.

“We learned a lot this year, and we’ll be back next year.”

In his second Chili Bowl attempt, 17-year-old Cannon McIntosh finished third, followed by Logan Seavey and two-time Chili Bowl champion Rico Abreu. Jonathan Beason, Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, Blake Hahn, Ryan Bernal and Tucker Klaasmeyer completed the top 10.

Notes: Kaidon Brown of Australia, winner of the first C Main on Saturday, has a priority that doesn’t involve racing. The reigning Australian midget champion attends college in his home country, planning to become a doctor…

At 47, USAC Triple Crown winner Jerry Coons Jr. claimed victory in the second C Main. Though a veteran driver, Coons was hardly the oldest in the field of 350. That distinction belongs to 64-year-old Sammy Swindell, who owns a record five Golden Driller trophies and was making his 30th Chili Bowl appearance this week. With a fifth-place finish in the second B Main, Swindell qualified for the Saturday main event for the 25th time and finished 13th…

At the other end of the age spectrum, 18-year-old Kofoid won the second B main from the pole and claimed Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year honors…

Seavey, the 2018 USAC National Midget champion, won the first B Main, but the feel-good story from that race belonged to NASCAR veteran Justin Allgaier, who ran third and qualified for the main event for the first time in 11 years…

Chris Cochran of McLoud, Okla., advanced through five rounds of the alphabet soup on Saturday, starting in the second N Main and rising through the second J Main. Cochran’s impressive run—the longest of the day—ended in the second I Main with a 10th-place finish.

When J.J. Yeley finished third in the 2004 main event, he also climbed through five “letters,” starting in the F main. Yeley’s feat was all the more impressive because of the caliber of competition he passed on the way to the podium…

One of the favorite pastimes at the Chili Bowl is counting the number of times cars flip over—anything from a simple tip-over to a barrel-roll to an end-over-end spin. The record was 75 flips during the week, set last year when Christopher Bell provided the 75th flip during his trademark celebratory wheelstand spins. Paul Nienhiser tied the record during Saturday night’s second B main. The new record grew to 77 with the two flips in the A Main.

 

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