TULSA, Okla. – Christopher Bell would not be denied his eighth Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary feature victory Thursday during John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night.
Bell took advantage of a late-race restart on the quarter-mile Tulsa Expo Raceway oval to overtake Tanner Thorson and held on to equal Sammy Swindell for the most preliminary night feature victories in Chili Bowl history.
The victory also gave Keith Kunz Motorsports a sweep of the first four qualifying nights. It‘s the second time the team has won four qualifying nights at the Chili Bowl, with the first taking place in 2019.
“It‘s absolutely crazy looking at this week how it‘s been four KKM cars,” said Bell, who joined Tanner Carrick, Buddy Kofoid and Rico Abreu as a preliminary feature this week. “If you just follow the results you would think one team is dominating the race, but I think that is far from the truth. Everybody here has got great equipment. There are probably 80 cars out there that are capable of winning if you have the right setup and the right driver in it. Things are going right for sure for KKM.”
Bell started fourth in the 30-lap feature, with Shane Golobic and 13-year-old Brent Crews sharing the front row. Following a multi-car pileup on first start attempt, the race got underway with Golobic rolling into the lead.
Thorson, who started third alongside Bell, quickly moved to second and began pursuit of Golobic. It didn‘t take him long to catch him, with Thorson completing the pass to take the lead on the fifth circuit.
The caution waved again on lap eight when Emerson Axsom looped his Clauson Marshall Racing midget, collecting two other cars in the process. On the restart that followed C.J. Leary made a three-wide pass on Bell and Crews to go from fifth to third.
Leary would soon move to second, slipping past Golobic as 10 laps were completed. Moments later the caution waved for the third time as Danny Stratton and Spencer Bayston spun.
The restart that followed saw Bell wage a brief war with Crews for the fourth spot, with the two trading sliders before Bell finally made one stick with 17 laps left. At that point he set off in pursuit of Golobic, who he dispatched at the halfway point.
Pounding the cushion, Bell quickly caught and passed Leary for second. That left only Thorson in front of him with 12 laps left. Bell was able to close the gap with nine laps left when Frankie Guerrini spun on the frontstretch to bring out the caution.
“I got going really good on the top midway through the race and I started picking guys off. I got by C.J. and I was coming on Tanner and the yellow came out and he moved up and took my line away from me,” Bell said. “At that point I just committed to the bottom and tried to get going as good as I could.”
A quick caution for the stopped car of Crews after one lap was completed set up another restart with Thorson and Bell up front. Bell tossed a huge slider going into turn one, but Thorson had the momentum and was able to hang on.
With six laps to a trio of cars flipped in turn three, with Andrew Deal, Mitchell Davis and Damion Gardner all ending up on their lids as the caution flag waved. That led to the final restart of the night, with Bell again hounding Thorson.
With four laps left Bell saw his opportunity as he tossed a huge slider under Thorson going into turn one. The move stuck and Bell emerged with the lead, but Thorson was still right there and was doing his best on the top to get a run and take the lead back.
Thorson got close a couple of times, but a few bounces off the cushion took away his momentum and allowed Bell to hang on to the lead. Bell crossed the finish line .380 seconds ahead of Thorson, with Leary coming home a close third.
Thorson said he tried to change his timing on each of the late restarts in an effort to hold Bell off, but Bell still managed to find a way around him.
“I knew it was a matter of time before Bell kind of threw a bomb on me,” Thorson said. “I was waiting for it, so I was trying to screw him up on the starts as best as I could. After we started sliding each other and crossing each other back over, it kind of went into all out. I just kind of sailed off into three and was hoping I could try to drive around him and I just kept getting tight off of (turn) four.
“At that point I knew I needed to carry as much speed as I could on the last lap to at least beat Leary because I saw Leary poking his nose down under there.”
Tim Buckwalter finished fourth after advancing to the feature from the second B main. Golobic faded from the pole to finish fifth.
For complete results, click below.