Jerry Coons, Jr. takes Thursday win at Chili Bowl; IndyCar’s Sarah Fisher 6th in C-Main

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Three more tickets have been punched to Saturday’s main event at the 29th Annual Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Jerry Coons, Jr. pulled away on the final restart of Thursday’s A-Feature to claim his third Chili Bowl preliminary night win and notch his 12th consecutive berth in the finale of midget racing’s biggest event.

Joining Coons in Saturday’s money show will be runner-up Andrew Deal (+ 2.2 seconds) and third-place finisher Kevin Swindell, himself a four-time Chili Bowl champion.

Coons started from third and on Lap 7 of 25, he assumed the lead. An incident involving Tracy Hines slowed the field down at Lap 14, but Coons nailed the restart and went on to take the checkered flag.

“In any preliminary night, it’s hard enough to run in the top-three, certainly hard enough to win,” Coons said in a release. “Everything has got to go your way, which it did tonight.

“From our Heat, to our Qualifier, everything went right. The reason we celebrate pretty good on preliminary nights is because it’s still a big win.”

Swindell had a trying time in getting to the podium on Thursday, but was able to persevere.

His air box became dislodged in his opening heat race, and he subsequently had to get to the A-Feature via a win in one of the two B-Features.

Then, in the A, he was caught in a Lap 2 pileup that involved 10 cars. Swindell had to visit the work area for a tire change and restarted at the back of the field. Undaunted, he raced his way back toward the front before taking third place from Ryan Bernal on Lap 24.

“I was able to get around the bottom pretty good,” Swindell said in his own thoughts. “I think most of the guys couldn’t and didn’t really try. I had the seas part a couple of times to get a few of them and I guess I had to really work past Bernal at the end.”

Coons, Deal, and Swindell join Night 1 transfers Kyle Larson, Brad Loyet, and Spencer Bayston, plus Night 2 transfers Rico Abreu, Chris Windom, and J.J. Yeley, in Saturday’s main event.

Also among the 80 cars that competed Thursday at the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa was the one that belonged to Verizon IndyCar Series team owner and former midget racer Sarah Fisher.

Fisher, who co-owns IndyCar’s CFH Racing with Ed Carpenter, came from sixth on the grid to win the first of two D-Feature races and advance to the C-Feature.

There, Fisher climbed from 13th to a sixth-place finish, but that was not enough to keep her night going as she finished two spots out of transfer position.

The Chili Bowl continues tonight with Vacuworx Global Qualifying Night starting at 6:45 p.m. ET.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”