In 2015 the sell-out crowd at the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma chanted “Rico! Rico! Rico!” as loud as they possibly could after Rico Abreu won the Chili Bowl Nationals. One year later, the sell-out crowd at the expo center was doing the exact same thing after Abreu took the checkered flag to win the 30th Annual Chili Bowl Nationals, and his second straight.
The 23-year-old California native powered away from Clauson in the closing laps and secured the victory. Clauson came home second with Zach Daum finishing third. Jerry Coons Jr., and Kyle Larson completed the top five.
With about 43 laps of the scheduled 55 in the books, the race was halted due to a medical emergency in the grandstands. The cars sat on the backstretch for about 10 minutes as medical crews and venue officials handled the situation.
As the cars sat, the track changed. For much of the race the bottom lane was the preferred lane, and that was
where Clauson had been running all night long. But after the red flag was lifted and the race resumed, the top lane was the place to be, and that’s exactly where Abreu was most comfortable running.
“It was obviously a huge point in the race,” said Clauson. “The biggest thing was being out front. I was trying to figure out where I needed to be, but it’s hard to move everywhere and see where you need to be when you’re out front. You try to move around without exposing yourself. I think the biggest thing under that red was the track sat for almost 10 minutes under that red. I was almost working the middle and getting some runs and that went away after the red.”
Abreu said the turning point for him came during that red flag period also, but not because of track conditions. He had just passed Daum for second one lap prior to the caution flag being thrown. Initially officials determined that Daum would be in second for the next restart, but then a correction was made and Abreu was placed in the runner-up spot.
“I would have had to fight with him again and then (Clauson) would have gotten away from us,” said Abreu. “Then it went non-stop there at the end. I just had to minimize my mistakes there at the end. I saw him on the big screen there with two to go and knew it was going to get real. I just slid myself down there into three and four in case he was going to bonsai me or not.”
After taking a few victory laps to gather himself and soak in the moment, Abreu came to turn four and did donuts, just like one year ago. Then he climbed out of the car and jumped into waiting arms. One year ago it was car owner Keith Kunz that caught the flying Abreu. On Saturday night it was the man he just beat for the win, Bryan Clauson.
Clauson said that the backstory behind that stems from a late night in Tulsa earlier this week after Abreu won on his preliminary night on Wednesday.
“I was giving him a hard time about doing donuts on his prelim night because he’d won the race before and
prelim night shouldn’t be a big deal anymore,” explained Clauson. “He said ‘Well, I climbed on top the car but no one was there to catch me’ so I told him if I run second then I’d come out and catch you. I made sure I lived up to my word.”
“I wasn’t going to catch him if he won,” immediately joked Abreu.
For Abreu, though, the celebration was a bit wilder on the race track the second time around than it was the first time he took the checkered flag a year ago. He explained that he was more joyous this year because after winning last year he has a true appreciation of what it takes to win the Chili Bowl.
“This race is so hard to win,” Abreu said. “It’s my favorite race of the year. Especially after winning last year. This race has a really special place in my heart.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Dave Biro/Speed51.com
30th Annual Chili Bowl Nationals
River Spirit Expo Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
1. 97-Rico Abreu; 2. 63-Bryan Clauson; 3. 5D-Zach Daum; 4. 5-Jerry Coons Jr; 5. 71K-Kyle Larson; 6. 47X-Tim McCreadie; 7. 91T-Tyler Thomas; 8. 2X-Thomas Meseraull; 9. 67-Tanner Thorson; 10. 17-Joey Saldana; 11. 8K-Blake Hahn; 12. 71-Christopher Bell; 13. 67Z-Kasey Kahne; 14. 17G-Shane Golobic; 15. 77B-Alex Bright; 16. 17R-Ricky Stenhouse Jr; 17. 24-Tracy Hines; 18. 1-Sammy Swindell; 19. 71G-Damion Gardner; 20. 99P-Dillon Welch; 21. 3B-Joe B. Miller; 22. (DNF) 71X-Shane Cottle; 23. (DNF) 38-Justin Grant; 24. (DNF) 21-Daryn Pittman; 25. (DNF) 2A-C.J. Leary