Kyle Larson collected his second-straight Golden Driller under some of the most treacherous conditions in the 35 years of the Chili Bowl Nationals.
An early caution allowed Larson to grab the lead from polesitter Justin Grant before the field completed the first lap. But Yung Money played defense throughout the 55-lap feature—not only against the competition but also the challenging conditions of the quarter-mile track.
“I don’t think I’d call it dominating at all,” Larson said of his performance. “I had to work way harder for that one than last year’s, I felt like. I could feel Grant pressuring me pretty much the whole race.
“There in the middle portion before the track really curved up, I wasn’t bad. Then there at the end, it got a massive curve. I was trying to run hard. And when I ran hard, I slammed into it. If I ran easy, I’d get tight against it.”
Larson held off Grant by 1.246-seconds at the finish. Tanner Thorson, Cannon McIntosh, Daryn Pittman, Chris Windom, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Spencer Bayston and Logan Seavy rounded out the top 10.
Grant had a second shot at Larson on Lap 2 when Brady Bacon triggered the second caution, the Paul Silva-prepared midget was too stout on restarts. Still, in his first outing with RMS, Grant posted a career-best result and his third podium in the last five races.
“In the early going I think we had a little bit better race car,” Grant said. “We were dogging him pretty hard. Trying to let the top get worked in. I was hoping that I could sneak by before he moved up but he moved up in time. When it got ledgy, he was a little better than I against the ledge. I tried to keep him insight, but I could do anything with him.
“He kind of had a bobble off of 4, and I tried to slide him but he recovered quicker than I thought and I couldn’t get him cleared. Then Bell got a big run on us and slowed us into 3. Chris was really fast there in the late going.”
Bell started third. As Grant started to fade with nine laps remaining, Bell passed the No. 2J and put the pressure on Larson. With just over 10 laps remaining, Larson faded up into the cushion twice and had to gather his midget back up to contend with Bell.
“Once I saw Bell, I knew I had to be smarter,” Larson said.
Once again, it appeared the Tulsa Expo Raceway was setting up for another epic battle between the two most recent Chili Bowl National winners when Blake Hahn spun with three to go to ignite the fifth caution. Larson and Bell bounced off of each other on the restart with the advantage going to the No. 01. Coming into Turn 3, Bell was sucked into the cushion and vaulted into the air.
“It was disappointing, but I left it all on the table,” Bell said. “Unfortunately, it came up a little bit short. Hopefully, it was a good race for the fans. I know it was exciting as always here at the Chili Bowl in my seat. The track just took forever to widen out and we were just following each other for so long. I knew it was getting toward the end there, so I just laid it all on the line.”
The absence of Bell instantly changed the dynamic. Larson had to hold serve while the field smelled blood.
“He caught the curb there and turned over,” Grant added. “The curb was getting pretty gnarly and we were struggling on it as well. I tried to slide him there on one of those last restarts but didn’t quite have enough to get clear.”
Thorson mounted a challenge on second-place Grant. Grant hit the cushion coming out of Turn 2, turning Thorson into Tyler Courtney and launching Sunshine into the air for the 69th and final flip of the week.
With two laps remaining, Larson nailed the restart and held off Grant for his second win in his 14th Chili Bowl start.
“I made a lot of massive mistakes in that race," Larson said. "Thankfully, I was able to hold them all off and catch the cautions at the right time. If we were in traffic, it could have been a totally different race. Then again, I wish we would have had traffic. I think I can get through traffic better than just running by myself. Just a lot of hard work there.
“Paul Silva, what can I say about him. Two times he’s been a crew chief in this building and two Golden Drillers going him Just very, very fortunate. This feels awesome.”
Thorson practiced patience following a dramatic prelim night on Friday where he wrecked in his heat race and battled through the C, B and A-Mains for a shot at Championship feature. After winning the B Main on Saturday, Thorson lined up 11th. He passed Rico Abreu for sixth on Lap 18. By Lap 30, he was able to move around Courtney to advance to the top five.
Despite Thorson’s collision with Grant and Courtney, he was able to stay the course over the final two laps and secure his first podium in the title feature.
“I’m good, I’m ready for 55 more,” Thorson said. “Hats off to this Dave Mac crew. They got me back out yesterday to be able to contend and get to the A-Main. I can’t thank those guys enough. We had a really fast race car. I feel like we had one of the fastest cars there—especially on the long runs. We could really spread out and open up.
“But Dave McIntosh, everyone that was involved with this car, I can’t thank them enough. I was able to set my car up free enough to pass early—and it was pretty good on the curb, too, where it was treacherous. I can’t thank this crew and the whole Chili Bowl for putting this on. I’m ready to take this mask off and drink a couple of beers.”