TULSA, Okla. – From the moment that Christopher Bell took the checkered flag in his heat race during Thursday’s John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night at Tulsa Expo Raceway, there was seemingly no doubt that he would be in victory lane at the end of the program.
Bell won that contest by a whopping 4.9 seconds, then added a 3.8-second qualifier victory for good measure to line up fourth for the fourth of five preliminary night features during the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Officially, it took him 11 laps of the 30-lapper to assume the race lead – thanks in part to cautions on laps eight and 10 that negated a pair of passes for the position – but once in front Bell was long gone.
He gapped the field despite three more yellow flags, eventually having to master lap traffic in the closing stages before winning his sixth straight Thursday feature at the Super Bowl of Midget Racing by .973 seconds in the No. 84x iRacing/PristineAuction.com Spike-Speedway Toyota.
Overall, it was Bell’s seventh Chili Bowl preliminary night win in the last eight years, tying him with Tuesday winner Kyle Larson and Cory Kruseman for second on the list of prelim-night victors.
Only Sammy Swindell, with eight prelim scores, has more than that trio.
Bell had the lead for the first time coming to lap eight, sweeping from third to first around both Brady Bacon and Spencer Bayston, but a Don Droud Jr. spin in turn three erased the nifty move and sent Bell back to third for the restart.
When the green waved, Bell slid to second despite some contact with Bacon off turn two, then roared around Bayston’s outside down the backstretch working lap 10 before another yellow stifled his run again.
That caution, for a flat right-rear tire on Austin Prock’s No. 19, was the last roadblock in Bell’s otherwise-perfect night. The next green flag saw the Norman, Okla., native slide Bayston for the point and take off.
Over the remaining 20 laps, there was no catching Bell, who will chase his fourth Chili Bowl triumph during Saturday’s 55-lap finale. He’s undefeated so far this week after also winning Tuesday’s VIROC.
“That was a fun one,” Bell said in victory lane. “The straightaways got super slick and made it really technical. You had to be way down on the straightaway to catch the grip or you had to carry momentum around the top. You’ve got to search and you’ve got to go wherever your car is best at.
“Luckily, my car was pretty good everywhere I went.”
While he kept composed under difficult circumstances, Bell still wasn’t pleased by the early cautions that set him back twice before he was finally able to set sail before the midway point.
“It was frustrating. You’re only going to get so many shots at the lead with those guys,” Bell noted. “Spencer [Bayston] and Brady [Bacon] and really talented drivers, so I knew when they got put back in front of me, they were going to take my line away and I was going to have to find something else.
“I didn’t want that to happen, but luckily my car was good enough I could kind of go where they didn’t.”
While Bell drove off into the distance, the battle for the final lock-in position to the big show was fierce through the middle stages of the race. Seventh-starting Buddy Kofoid, however, made things look easy.
Kofoid came through the field to take the runner-up position from Bayston on a lap-14 restart, setting his sights on Bell but ending up unable to chase him down in slower traffic near the end.
Still, second was enough for the Penngrove, Calif., native, who will compete in his second Saturday main event at the Chili Bowl in as many tries. Bacon rallied late to complete the Thursday podium.
Bayston crossed the line fourth and Joe B. Miller was fifth, while Logan Seavey came from 13th to sixth and placed himself among the B Main contenders for Saturday night in the Swindell Motorsports No. 39.
Kaylee Bryson, who is aiming to become the highest-finishing female driver in the history of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, was 11th and will find herself in a C Main for the alphabet soup program.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.