TULSA, Okla. – Two-time defending Chili Bowl Nationals winner Christopher Bell survived a war of attrition and a strong challenge from Shane Golobic to win Thursday night’s preliminary A-Feature at the Tulsa Expo Center.
In earning a guaranteed spot in Saturday’s A-Main, the NASCAR star won his fourth straight Thursday night preliminary feature and his fifth overall, matching Keith Kunz Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson. Sammy Swindell and Cory Kruseman (seven victories each) are the only two other drivers with five or more preliminary wins.
The 25-lap feature was peppered with cautions—11 to be exact, including three to get the event started and eight more after lap counting began.
Bell and Golobic swapped the lead after the final restart with four laps left, with Bell pulling off a succession of crossover moves to seal the victory, his 52nd national midget feature win for Toyota. C.J. Leary, running for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman, finished third after starting eighth.
Leary had beaten Bell earlier in the evening after starting second in their qualifying race.
“I had a lot of competition tonight, and I’m really glad he wasn’t on the front row at the start after the qualifier, because he might have driven away from me,” Bell said.
If Bell was complimentary of his opponents, the feeling was mutual.
“It’s kind of frustrating sometimes racing with Christopher,” said Golobic, who also earned a spot in Saturday’s A-Main. “He’s just so damn good. He’s unreal. I feel like I’d have more midget wins if he’d just go over and race NASCAR.”
“His car control is out of this world,” added Leary. “There are a lot of guys who are good, but Christopher is on top right now.”
Bell gave KKM its fourth straight preliminary win this year—an unprecedented accomplishment—and the seventh in eight preliminaries dating to last year. And Bell did it on a night where he didn’t feel he was at his best.
“I kind of felt rusty tonight,” said Bell, who had raced midgets in New Zealand during late December and early January. “I don’t why that was. The qualifier, he (Leary) was outstanding, and he got a way from me, and even (runner-up Justin) Allgaier was really good, and I couldn’t really do anything with him.
“The longer you’re on top, the harder it is to stay there, and the easier it is to lose. So I’m going to do my best to try to figure out why I didn’t feel as good as a normally do and why I didn’t run as good of a race as I normally do.
“Going into Saturday, I’m obviously in a really good spot right now, but Kyle (Larson) is hungry, and these guys are all hungry, too.”
Danny Stratton finished fourth in the preliminary, followed by Josh Most, Austin Brown, Tracy Hines and Casey Shuman. Hines weather a spectacular flip in his heat race and advanced through the C- and B-Features to the A, where he started last among the 24 drivers.