Rico Abreu earns first career Chili Bowl victory

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Early on, it looked like no one would have an answer for Bryan Clauson in Saturday night’s Chili Bowl Nationals main event in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

But as it turned out, someone did.

That someone was reigning USAC National Midget Series champion Rico Abreu, who got by the defending Chili Bowl champ just before the halfway mark of the A-Feature.

Clauson would get collected in an accident later on, and Abreu held the point for the rest of the race to capture his first win in one of dirt track racing’s biggest events.

As Abreu emerged through the “roof” of his midget racer to celebrate, the sell-out crowd at the River Spirit Expo Center was heard chanting his name in appreciation of his efforts.

“I just tried to stay as patient as I could,” Abreu said. “You know the race is a not a long race, but it is a long race. For a few laps, I just kind of got after it just to see where we were at and I hung with [Clauson] pretty good.

“I don’t know how hard he was racing but when the time was right, I pulled the trigger and gave him a slide job and was waiting for him to slide me back. We dragged raced each other into [Turn] 3 and I came out with the lead.”

Four-time Chili Bowl champion Kevin Swindell survived involvement in a six-car pileup early in the A-Feature and made a late run to second place.

Rounding out the podium was Damion Gardner, who came from the last row of the grid to finish third.

Clauson maintained second position for a while after losing his battle for the lead to Abreu, and still had hope of a second consecutive victory in Tulsa.

But that was dashed at Lap 39, when he was forced to stop after Daryn Pittman had spun in front of him in T3. They avoided a big crash, but were sent to the rear of the field. Both impressively recovered for Top-10 finishes – Pittman in sixth, Clauson in 10th.

Also among the big names to fall out of contention during the 55-lapper was NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie of the year Kyle Larson. He started the main event in fourth place but spun out unassisted – not once, but twice. Nonetheless, he carried on and came home a respectable seventh.

Other NASCAR drivers involved in the A-Feature were J.J. Yeley, who finished 17th, and Chad Boat, who ran within the Top 5 before he tagged the cushion and flipped in the air. Boat landed right-side up, but he had to swallow a 21st-place result.

Another NASCAR driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., advanced into the preceding B-Mains but could not get to the A-Feature with a ninth-place finish. He needed a Top 6 finish to move on.

29th Annual Chili Bowl Nationals – River Spirit Expo Center, Tulsa, Okla.
A-Feature – 55 laps
Finishing Position/No./Driver/[Starting Position]

1. 97-Rico Abreu [3]
2. 39-Kevin Swindell [10]
3. 71L-Damion Gardner[23]
4. 67-Tanner Thorson [18]
5. 1-Sammy Swindell [16]
6. 21-Daryn Pittman [8]
7. 71K-Kyle Larson [4]
8. 15D-Andrew Deal [6]
9. 5D-Zach Daum [20]
10. 63-Bryan Clauson [2]
11. 8K-Blake Hahn[15]
12. 05-Brad Loyet [7]
13. 5-Jerry Coons Jr [1]
14. 7A-Darren Hagen [22]
15. 2B-Ryan Bernal [17]
16. 17C-Casey Shuman [25]
17. 1ST-J.J. Yeley[12]
18. 39B-Spencer Bayston [11]
19. 63K-Chris Windom [5]
20. 17RW-Dave Darland [24]
21. 15X-Chad Boat [9]
22. 5C-Colten Cottle [21]
23. 71-Christopher Bell [14]
24. 88B-Terry Babb [13]
Lap Leader(s): Clauson, 1-26; Abreu 27-55

Watch: Top 5 heartbreaks in Indy 500 history (video)

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As we near the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, NBC Sports will be counting down some of the top moments in the race’s illustrious history, right up until May 26.

Today’s countdown features the top five heartbreaks, from J.R. Hildebrand crashing on the final turn in 2011 to hand the win to Dan Wheldon, to Robby Gordon running out of fuel in 1999 and leading to Kenny Brack’s victory.

For more Indy 500 coverage, check out NBC Sports Gold for exclusive coverage, and don’t miss the race on NBC on May 26.