After 13 years of trying, Kyle Larson finally scored the biggest and most elusive win of his motorsports career, taking the checkered flag in the 34th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals at the River Spirit Expo Center (OK).
Larson passed fellow NASCAR Cup Series racer and three-time Chili Bowl champion Christopher Bell on lap 39 of the 55-lap A-Feature, avenging a bitter defeat to Bell in last year’s race.
Last year's second-place finish was just one in a list of disappointments in the prestigious Dirt Midget event. Larson missed the A-Feature entirely in 2017, and suffered engine issues while leading the race in 2018.
“It’s a pretty different range of emotions 365 days later,” Larson said on the MAVTV broadcast. “I feel like I’m going to pass out.
“It’s taken me thirteen years. That’s almost half my age, I’ve been coming here. Thirteen years trying to win this race, and it feels better than I can imagine.”
While Larson competes on the biggest stage in American motorsport for Chip Ganassi Racing and will soon be competing in his seventh Daytona 500, he did not hesitate to place the Chili Bowl win atop his list of accomplishments.
“I’m sorry, NASCAR, I’m sorry, Daytona, but this is the biggest f’ing race I’ve ever won. I hope to win Daytona in a few weeks, but this is bada--.”
A caution on lap 36 for Michael Pickens coming to rest on-track set the stage for Larson’s victory. To that point, Bell had dominated the race after taking the top spot from pole-sitter Tanner Thorson on the opening lap.
After several attempts to take the lead, Larson finally took the top spot on lap 39, surviving another pair of restarts to hold on for the win.
“Obviously, we were all nervous, I’m sure, seeing Christopher take the lead on the outside lane and check out like he did,” Larson said about the first half of the race. “I was doing all I could to keep up with him through traffic and felt like I was doing a good job.
“We were able to get by him quick. I tried not to make too many mistakes but I was getting a little sloppy at the end. My nerves were kicking in and nightmares were running through my head again.”
A disappointed Bell came home with a runner-up finish, unable to explain what happened during the pivotal middle stage of the race.
“I felt like I got in a rhythm there early,” Bell said. “I didn’t want to lead the entire race, but it just worked out on the start where I was able to get out front. I don’t know if our tire bled down or he was just better than us in that 10-lap stint from 35 to 45. In the last 10 I was able to stay with him. It was just a matter of who made it a mistake, and he didn’t make any mistakes this year.”
Behind Bell on the podium was another Oklahoma native, as 17-year-old Cannon McIntosh charged from eighth in the starting lineup to third.
“Getting to race with Rico [Abreu] and Bell towards the end there was awesome,” McIntosh said. “I’m just really thankful to be here. I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot in that race. The car just got better and better as the race went on. We came home with third, and I’m happy with that.”
Logan Seavey finished fourth, with Abreu rounding out the top five.
Race fans who missed Saturday’s Chili Bowl Nationals can relive all of the excitement of the day with Speed51’s Race Day Now coverage by clicking here.
34th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals Unofficial Results
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo