For Christopher Bell, winning at the Chili Bowl Nationals is everything. He grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, not all that far away from Tulsa. As a kid he went to the Tulsa Shootout every year and dreamed of winning the Shootout and maybe even some day the Chili Bowl. On Thursday night, Bell won at the Chili Bowl.
It may have only been a preliminary night, but the 21-year-old driver put the rest of the 340-plus field on notice that he is one of the fastest drivers in Tulsa. Bell put in an absolutely dominating performance on Thursday night, leading all 25 laps.
“As a kid growing up you look up to those guys that get to win the Shootout,” Bell said. “I unfortunately never got to win the Shootout. But now that I get to run the Chili Bowl, this is it. If I could only run one race a year, it’s this race. It’s something that I want to win so bad, and I promise I want to win it more than anybody. I’m just glad I’m in this position, and hopefully it will translate to Saturday.”
By virtue of winning tonight’s A-Main, Bell is locked into Saturday night’s 55-lap main event, along with Jerry Coons Jr., and Shane Cottle who finished second and third respectively.
If he’s as strong on Saturday as he was on Thursday night, he may drive away from the field and quickly into
lapped traffic. Usually lapped traffic plays a big role in the winner of Chili Bowl races, and traffic has impacted Bell’s Keith Kunz Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson in each of the past two years.
But Bell was able to weave his way in and out of traffic with ease, and even when a car spun across the track right in front of him, Bell stayed as calm as he usually is and drove right on by.
“It definitely got pretty hectic there,” said Bell. “I just tried to make sure I gave myself space so that in case something did happen, like it did, I had time to react. You see it time and time again where the lapped cars will get racing and spin out and take out the leader. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I just got lucky that I was running the top and those guys turned and went down to the bottom.”
Only one thing caused Bell any sort of trouble on Thursday night, but fortunately for him it came after he had already taken the checkered flag. Bell attempted to do some victory donuts in turn two, but was only able to complete one full revolution before parking his No. 71 atop the berm and getting stuck. He needed assistance from a push truck to get him to victory lane.
Now Bell is looking ahead to Saturday night and a chance at a Golden Driller. And also a second chance.
“I just want a chance to redeem myself for those donuts.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
Chili Bowl Nationals John Christner Trucking Preliminary Night
River Spirit Expo Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
1. 71-Christopher Bell; 2. 5-Jerry Coons Jr; 3. 71X-Shane Cottle; 4. 2A-C.J. Leary; 5. 24-Tracy Hines; 6. 17R-Ricky Stenhouse Jr; 7. 5X-Justin Peck; 8. 38-Justin Grant; 9. 3B-Joe B. Miller; 10. 17H-Harli White; 11. 15D-Andrew Deal; 12. 76M-Brady Bacon; 13. 29S-Anthony Nocella; 14. 05S-Dominic Scelzi; 15. 17M-Paul McMahan; 16. 27H-Tanner Berryhill; 17. 47-Danny Stratton; 18. 7JA-Justin Allgaier; 19. 37B-Jake Blackhurst; 20. 37-Seth Bergman; 21. 7A-Scott Weir; 22. 56J-Sheldon Haudenschild; 23. 7XX-Gage Walker; 24. (DNF) 91K-Kevin Bayer