Christopher Bell, the two-time defending winner of the Chili Bowl Nationals, left little doubt Thursday night that he'd once again be a favorite to take home the coveted Golden Driller trophy. Bell led all but one lap of the 25-lap A-Main feature on his way to Victory Lane at the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
After starting third, Bell inherited the lead before a single lap was completed when polesitter Danny Stratton was penalized for jumping the start. From there, the No. 71K pulled out to a lead until a late restart bunched the field up and allowed Shane Golobic to make a bid for the top spot. Bell and Golobic traded slide-jobs for two laps before Bell ultimately fended off the vicious charge to secure the victory.
"Man, Shane just kept doing a really good job there on the restarts," Bell said on the RacinBoys.com live broadcast. "He had probably twenty opportunities to try something different and get a run on me. That last one I went in there and I was really dedicated to the bottom and I didn't want to slip up off of it. My tire pressures were probably a little bit low and I went in there and biked on the bottom. That allowed him to stay with me and then he pulled the trigger into turn three. I'm glad that it worked out the way it did where I had enough traction to turn across and drive hard down the front straightaway to get back inside of him, but he did a good job. He kept staying with me and sliding me, but I was able to turn down good."
With his victory, Bell secured a guaranteed starting spot in Saturday's 55-lap main event for the 33rd Annual Chili Bowl Nationals. Golobic fended off a hard-charging CJ Leary on the final lap to finish second and earn himself a starting spot in the main event.
"That was a good race," said Golobic, a native of Freemont, California. "I actually got lucky a couple times there with some timely yellows. I was racing nice and hard with (CJ) Leary and my buddy Ryan (Bernal). I had a blast, it was a really great race track. I got lucky there a couple time and tried to capitalize on it there at the end, but God, Christopher is so good. We just need to be a little bit better.
"I'm blessed to be able to run this race car for this race team. They gave me an awesome, it's just frustrating running second to Christopher. Hats off to him. Obviously, he's the best there is hands down. To be able to even dice it out with him, I'm pretty proud of what this team has done. All we've got to do is try again Saturday."
In addition to scoring a victory of his own, Bell did his part to continue Keith Kunz Motorsports' dominance during this year's version of the event. With the victory, he joins fellow KKM drivers Logan Seavey, Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu as winners of preliminary night A-Mains in 2019.
For Bell, each trip to Victory Lane at the Chili Bowl Nationals is a special one. Growing up in nearby Norman, Oklahoma and attending the event as a kid, winning races at the Chili Bowl is exactly what he dreamed of.
"It is, you're exactly right. This is what I dreamed of," Bell stated. "I just remember coming here and no Oklahoma guys had won. Andy Hillenburg had won one of them and that was it in the history of the Chili Bowl. It's really special that I'm the next Oklahoma guy to win in here."
Race fans can find updates, photos and more from Thursday's Chili Bowl action by visiting Speed51.com's Race Day Now coverage.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Evan Canfield
Chili Bowl Nationals Thursday Night A-Main Unofficial Results
1. 71W-Christopher Bell, ; 2. 17C-Shane Golobic, ; 3. 55V-C.J. Leary, ; 4. 47X-Danny Stratton, ; 5. 92M-Josh Most, ; 6. 17A-Austin Brown, ; 7. 11-Tracy Hines, ; 8. 32D-Casey Shuman, ; 9. 1G-Kyle Cummins, ; 10. 11A-Andrew Felker, ; 11. 97A-Austin O'Dell, ; 12. 2C-Seth Carlson, ; 13. 1A-Justin Allgaier, ; 14. 71R-Chase Johnson, ; 15. 45X-Johnny Herrera, ; 16. (DNF) 39-Ryan Bernal, ; 17. (DNF) 25-Jerry Coons Jr, ; 18. (DNF) 2D-Matt Sherrell, ; 19. (DNF) 7R-Thomas Meseraull, ; 20. (DNF) 19W-Jake Morgan, ; 21. (DNF) 15D-Andrew Deal, ; 22. (DNF) 91K-Kevin Bayer, ; 23. (DNF) 2T-Kaleb Currie, ; 24. (DNF) 51B-Joe B. Miller,