Six days, over 350 drivers, hundreds of races and thousands of laps culminated with two drivers duking it out on the very last lap. That was the tale of the 33rd Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals at River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma as “The Superbowl of Midget Racing” came down to two of the youngest and brightest drivers in Motorsports.
After snagging the lead from Keith Kunz Motorsports teammate Logan Seavy on Lap 22 of the 55-lap A-main, Kyle Larson seemed to have put himself in position to finally take home his first Golden Driller. But with defending Chili Bowl champ Christopher Bell soon running second in pursuit of the hat trick, victory was anything but assured even with Larson stretching a gap in a clean second half of the feature.
In the end, everything came together as the two KKM teammates/rivals went head to head on the last lap, with Bell taking advantage of a mistake by Larson to get to the inside in turn one, banging wheels to get the lead on berm, and holding off a dive by Larson in turn three to get his third straight Golden Driller in front of the hometown crowd.
“It never disappoints, that was a ton of fun from my seat, just really thankful to be in the position I am driving for iRacing and Keith Kunz Motorsports. I didn’t know if I was going to get there on that one. I kept struggling and struggling, the top was okay over here (in turns three and four), but I was losing a little bit of time, then I when I found the bottom, I started to make up time.”
In the end, it was a simultaneous combination of Bell finding the right ground and Larson slipping off it that made the difference.
“I had been moving around quite a bit,” Bell explained. “I had been on the top on both ends making up a bit of ground, and the top started to go away off of four there. So I committed myself to the bottom there because I didn’t have anything better to lose. It got really slick down there and Kyle tried to stick it on the last lap, and he just didn’t have any laps down there. I knew what I needed to do to try and get in the infield there to try and stick and get off the corner good.”
Indeed, it was a move that Larson could see coming after his first slide with two to go.
“It kind of started coming to the white, I missed the bottom and allowed Christopher to get a run,” Larson said. “I could see on the big screen he was getting close so I thought about sliding myself, because I didn’t know what he was going to do. Then I figured at the last minute he was going to try and stick the bottom, and I just missed it a little bit allowing him to get by.”
An almost inconsolable Larson could only vow to be back next year to try once again to finally end the tale of being oh so close.
“I ran 53-and-a-half good laps and just didn’t close it out. Hate it. Just happy I got to race for a win here after the last handful of years here for me. But it’s just disappointing to be close to winning a race like this, feeling I did everything I could up until the very end there. Just gave it away, hate that; cool Keith and Pete still get a win, but would’ve liked it to be me and get a win for my dad. We’ll come back next year and try again.”
Despite the close quarter of the final laps, both drivers were complimentary of each other and the support of all the race fans who had packed the house throughout the week. Not surprisingly, Bell expressed a tremendous amount of pride in once again having the home advantage.
“Without the fans here we wouldn’t be able to do this and the fans are what make this great event. I’m thankful to be a part of it. The first one is always going to be one of my favorites, but that one right there is pretty sweet, just to be able to have a finish like that at the end.”
Behind the Bell-Larson duo, Justin Grant put in a podium performance after starting fifth, with Brady Bacon and Zach Daum completing the top five.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos