How NASCAR’s stars faired in the 2018 Chili Bowl Nationals

Russell LaBounty/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

He did it again.

One year removed from an emotional first win in the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion and Oklahoma native Christopher Bell outlasted Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson and held on late to claim back-to-back wins in his home state’s prestigious dirt event.

The win marked the fourth-consecutive year that a current or former NASCAR competitor has won the event, though each of the drivers were regulars in dirt before taking a shot at stock cars. Former Truck Series and K&N Pro Series East competitor Rico Abreu – who finished second in Sunday’s A-Main – earned back-to-back victories in the January event in 2015 and ’16.

Two months removed from a breakout Cup Series season that saw him claim four victories, Larson led the 24-car feature field to green after besting Bell in a Pole Shootout.

For a time it appeared Larson and Bell would battle to the finish, but the two-time Cup Series playoff participant’s night was brought to an early end when an apparent blown motor sidelined him in the closing laps. The Californian sputtered into the infield and was classified with a 19th-place finish.

While Bell and Larson were the only two NASCAR regulars to crack the A-Main, a host of other competitors could be found throughout the famed “Alphabet Soup” – a string of elimination heat races that trims the 350+ competitors of the event down to a 24-car finale.

Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne, longtime dirt ace JJ Yeley and XFINITY Series Championship 4 participant Justin Allgaier each made their way into the first of two B-Mains on the day, but the efforts of both drivers to crack the feature ultimately fell short. Kahne traded the transfer position off-and-on throughout the 20-lap race, but a ninth-place finish wasn’t enough for the Washington native to make the field.

Yeley followed in 12th, with Allgaier crossing the line a distant 18th after involvement in a mid-race incident.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. appeared poised to contend for a spot in the feature one year removed from a 16th-place result in the A-Main. But in the end the Mississippian’s efforts to crack the top 24 fell just short as he was sent flipping into the catch fence in the second B-Main. Stenhouse was classified in 20th in the race after his crash.

Truck Series Most Popular Driver and Homestead-Miami Speedway winner Chase Briscoe suffered a disappointing Chili Bowl outing, suffering elimination with a seventh-place finish in the second E-Main one year after he cracked the feature field for the first time.

While no other NASCAR stars participated in the event as drivers, a few were involved as owners.

One month from his full-time replacement of the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman was in Tulsa to support C.J. Leary – who was driving a car owned by Bowman. The dirt regular won his D-Main and transferred through the C-Main, but was eliminated with a 20th-place finish in the B.

In a paired ownership with Dooling Hayward Motorsports, NASCAR regulars Richard Childress Racing placed two drivers in the feature in their first Chili Bowl venture.

The combined Dooling Hayward Motorsports/RCR team saw both Tanner Thorson and Brad Sweet make their way into the 55-lap A-Main, with Sweet starting fifth after earning a starting spot on his qualifying night while Thorson rose up from 17th after working his way into the feature from one of the two C-Mains.

While he started much further back, Thorson eventually brought home the better result in fourth. Sweet followed in sixth.

The Chili Bowl complete, the majority of the NASCAR field involved will now be able to set their sights on Daytona International Speedway. The year’s festivities are set to open with the Advanced Auto Parts Clash on Feb. 11, with the Daytona 500 following a week later on Feb. 18.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *