Defending champ Tanner Thorson dominates Chili Bowl preliminary

TULSA, Okla. – Tanner Thorson took a giant step toward a second straight Chili Bowl Nationals title with a wire-to-wire A Feature victory on John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night at the Tulsa Expo Raceway.

Thorson and Emerson Axsom ran 1-2 for the entire A-Main, and both secured positions in Saturday’s A Feature, where Thorson will attempt to join an elite fraternity of drivers who have won consecutive Chili Bowl titles.

Kevin Swindell (four straight wins), Rico Abreu, Christopher Bell (three straight) and Kyle Larson are the only drivers who have won the midget racing’s most prestigious event back-to-back.

Starting on the pole with the highest point total after heats and qualifying races, Thorson quickly widened his lead over Axsom. The only jeopardy he faced in the 30-lap feature was heavy traffic.

When Thorson started lapping back markers, Axsom closed within a car length, but Jake Neuman’s flip with seven laps left forced a caution and gave Thorson the advantage of a restart with a clean track in front of him.

A lap later, Casey Shuman’s flip brought out the final caution, but Thorson was untouchable on the restart and pulled away for the win.

Brady Bacon took advantage of the low line after the last restart and picked off two cars to finish third. Tim Buckwalter and Tanner Carrick ran fourth and fifth, respectively.

For Thorson, an evening that ended so positively started inauspiciously. After slight contact with another car in his heat race, Thorson executed a 360-degree spin and kept going. He dropped back to seventh but rallied to win the race with a last-lap pass.

Thorson then won his qualifying race to accumulate 225 points, two more than Axsom, who finished second in the qualifier. That put the eventual 1-2 finishers on the front row for the A Feature—and they held those positions for the entire race, as drivers behind them battled for leftovers.

“I thought my prelim night was over at the start of that heat race,” said Thorson, who qualified for his ninth straight Chili Bowl A-Main. “I was waiting to get hit, and luckily enough, I didn’t and I was able to keep going.

“Yeah, we had a really good car.”

Though Axsom had closed on Thorson in traffic, he wasn’t overly bothered by the caution that gave Thorson a clean track. Instead, Axsom went to school.

“I honestly wasn’t too mad about the traffic issue,” said Axsom, who is driving for Reinbold Underwood Motorsports for the first time. “I figured I could gauge in clean air where we needed to be better with Tanner. So it’s kind of a good thing, and we can be better on Saturday.”

Karter Sarff, Chase Johnson, Ryan Bernal, Dominic Gorden and Joe B. Miller finished sixth through 10th.

Friday brings the final qualifying night before “alphabet soup” races begin on Saturday morning. The final field for the Saturday’s A Feature will be set after a pair of B-Mains.

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