TULSA, Okla. – Kyle Larson’s 13-year quest to win the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals finally ended on Saturday night with a tenacious, stirring and immensely-popular victory at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
In his first Chili Bowl appearance behind the wheel of his own race car, Larson piloted the No. 01 Lucas Oil/iRacing King-Toyota to the win in the 34th edition of the biggest midget race in the world.
Larson used a lap-39 bomb of a slide job to wrest the lead away from outside polesitter, race-long leader and longtime rival Christopher Bell in turn three, then fended off every advance Bell made over a pair of late-race restarts.
After quickly gapping Bell once he took the lead, Larson saw his margin vanish for the first time when Aaron Reutzel flipped with 15 to go, collecting Thomas Meseraull in turn two as Meseraull also got upside down.
That incident, which also set a new World Wide Technology Raceway Flip Count record at 77, set Bell up on Larson’s tail tank for a shootout to the finish.
However, what Bell didn’t expect was an outside variable.
On a lap-41 restart, Rico Abreu shot to Bell’s inside with a slider of his own, taking second place for a brief moment and allowing Larson to get away to a lead of more than a second before Bell countered.
By the time the three-time defending Chili Bowl winner got back to the runner-up spot, Larson was well in the wind, and would have stayed there if not for a final caution with 10 laps left for a stopped Tanner Thorson.
Thorson, the polesitter who was seeking his first Chili Bowl title, started up front but never led a lap on the night and retired to the pits with mechanical issues at that point, taking him out of the running for the Golden Driller.
That left Larson, Bell and Abreu up front to battle for all the marbles, with Larson nailing the final restart and leaving Bell unable to challenge down the stretch.
When all was said and done, Larson took the checkered flag in front by .801 seconds over Bell, with teenage sensation Cannon McIntosh rising late to complete the podium after starting eighth.
But on the victory lane stage, all the focus was on Larson and his defining moment, as he took home the win that had eluded him for so long and meant more to him than arguably any other he’d ever earned.
“I feel like I’m going to pass out, honestly,” Larson said. “And I’m sorry, NASCAR; I’m sorry, Daytona (Int’l Speedway), but this is the biggest effing race I’ve ever won! I hope to win Daytona in a few weeks. But this is bad ass. Holy cow.
“I can’t say enough about Lucas Oil, iRacing and everybody who helps out on this car. (Crew chief) Paul Silva … my gosh, we worked on this thing all week long, and there in the feature I finally felt good, to where I could get down the straightaways and have grip,” Larson added. “At that point, I could lean into the cushion and be confident. Man, I can’t believe it, though. It’s taken me 13 years (to win the Chili Bowl); that’s almost half my age. It’s crazy.
“I’ve been coming here 13 years, but to finally win this race … it feels better than I can imagine.”
Larson has now won nine of the 11 features he’s participated in since debuting his own team, but knew that Saturday night, he had to defeat Bell at long last if he was going to get the job done.
It didn’t look like it would happen at first, but in the end – after several years of heartbreak – Larson’s tenacity finally won out and rewarded him with one of the most coveted trophies in motorsports.
“I think we were all nervous to see Chris get the lead from the outside lane and then check out like he did,” Larson admitted. “I was doing all I could to keep up with him through traffic, and felt like I was doing a good job. We had that one restart, and I stayed close to him and actually made a couple runs in on him on (corner) exit, so I knew that was going to be important for me to be able to slide him.
“I wanted to get by him quick, because once he figures some things out, he’s the best,” added Larson of Bell. “Thankfully I got by him quick and then tried not to make too many mistakes there, but I was getting a little sloppy at the end as my nerves were kicking in. I had nightmares running through my head again, but it was great to finally win it in my own car, especially the first time with it out here in the Chili Bowl. It’s just crazy.
“Paul Silva is so smart and for us come out like we have and pretty much win every race but a couple as a new team is something spectacular, and I don’t think it’ll ever be done again.”
Just off the podium, Logan Seavey raced from 11th to fourth for Swindell SpeedLab, with Abreu fading back slightly to complete the top five.
Jonathan Beason was sixth, followed by Chili Bowl rookie-of-the-year Buddy Kofoid, A-main hard charger Blake Hahn, Ryan Bernal and Tucker Klaasmeyer.
RESULTS: 34th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals; Tulsa Expo Raceway; Jan. 18, 2020
General Tire A-Main (55 laps): 1. 01-Kyle Larson ; 2. 84X-Christopher Bell ; 3. 71K-Cannon McIntosh ; 4. 39-Logan Seavey ; 5. 97-Rico Abreu ; 6. 8J-Jonathan Beason ; 7. 67-Buddy Kofoid ; 8. 52-Blake Hahn ; 9. 87W-Ryan Bernal ; 10. 27-Tucker Klaasmeyer ; 11. 7C-Tyler Courtney ; 12. 7X-Thomas Meseraull ; 13. 1-Sammy Swindell ; 14. 89-Chris Windom ; 15. 76M-Jason McDougal ; 16. 5D-Zach Daum ; 17. 55V-CJ Leary ; 18. 19B-Spencer Bayston ; 19. 17W-Shane Golobic ; 20. 1NZ-Michael Pickens ; 21. 7A-Justin Allgaier ; 22. 19-Tanner Thorson ; 23. 87-Aaron Reutzel ; 24. 27W-Colby Copeland .
Lap Leader(s): Christopher Bell 1-38; Kyle Larson 39-55.
Hard Charger: #52 – Blake Hahn (+10)
Rookie of the Year: #67 – Buddy Kofoid
How to Watch the Chili Bowl:
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Saturday, Jan. 18th at 8:30pm EST
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