TULSA, Okla. – A pair of NOS Energy-sponsored drivers put on a show during Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals Driven2SaveLives Qualifying Night Friday evening at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
In the end, it was a case of déjà vu as Justin Grant raced to his fifth Friday night qualifying feature victory in the last six years despite the best efforts of NASCAR Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The victory for Grant and RMS Racing snapped the week-long streak of Keith Kunz Motorsports preliminary night feature victories at four.
Stenhouse started on the pole as the high point man Friday, with Grant lining up fourth behind Stenhouse, Sam Johnson and Chase McDermand. The first attempt at the start was waved off when Brenham Crouch rolled to a stop, but on the second attempt it was Johnson who got a big run on the outside of Stenhouse to take the lead.
Stenhouse tried to toss a slider at Johnson, but the move failed and Grant took advantage to slip past and into second. Grant ran within striking distance until Johnson caught the tail of the field, which is when Grant made his move.
Grant dove low under Johnson in turns one and two and slid up in front of the 19-year-old racer to take the lead on the 16th circuit. Moments later the caution flag waved for Kasey Kahne, who came to a stop in turns one and two.
“I knew we had a pretty good car around the top,” said Grant, who also won the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions on Monday. “Sam was really good, he was fast up there. I was a little balled up early, a little tight, and kind of knew it was going to come back to me.
“When he got to traffic he kind of started making some mistakes on the curb and I was able to get to him and slide him. I knew once I could kind of just get to running we were going to be alright up there as long as the track didn‘t swing.”
Grant held serve during the restart, but behind him Stenhouse used a slider to dispatch Johnson and take second. They stayed that way until the caution waved again for a three-car pileup with seven laps left.
Racing resumed and Grant held serve on the restart, but the field only got one lap in before another multi-car pileup resulted in another caution flag.
This time around things didn‘t go Grant‘s way on the restart as Stenhouse got a great jump under Grant. Stenhouse was actually scored the leader at the start/finish line, but a caution for Tom Harris flipping behind the leaders negated the pass and put Grant back in the lead.
Stenhouse hounded Grant during the restart, with the two racing in close quarters for a lap or two before Grant started to slip away from Stenhouse. However, on the final lap Stenhouse got a massive run out of turn two into turn three and appeared like he may have a shot at Grant.
Unfortunately Stenhouse clipped the cushion, slowing his momentum, allowing Grant to get to the line first by .504 seconds.
“I just didn‘t feel that strong on the bottom so I was trying to keep making the top in (turns) one and two work,” said Grant, who got a little overzealous with his post-race celebrations and flipped his RMS Racing No. 2J. “Then Ricky rolled up alongside us there and we had just enough room to squeak around there and give him a big ole chop down into (turn) three.”
Stenhouse finished second to lock in to his eighth Chili Bowl main event. He did everything he could to deny Grant, but came up just short.
“Justin started getting defensive there those last few laps and I started running the top of (turns) one and two really, really well,” Stenhouse said. “I had a few good runs down the backstretch and gave it everything I had in (turns) three and four coming to the line and just got a little bit too tight.”
Zeb Wise advanced from the first B main and slipped by Keith Kunz Motorsports driver Bryant Wiedeman on the last lap to take the final spot on the podium. Johnson faded in the closing laps to fifth after leading the first 15 laps.
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