Chili Bowl winner Abreu making major inroads in NASCAR

4 Comments

Several hours after winning the biggest race of his life, Rico Abreu realized he’d arrived at the same time his plane did in Chicago.

“When we landed, they announced on the plane that the Chili Bowl Nationals winner is on this flight,” Abreu said Tuesday morning during a conference call with the news media. “They actually said, ‘Rich Abreu’ and then they said, ‘Rico,’ and everyone started laughing.”

Abreu certainly could take it in stride, having emerged over the last 72 hours as the newest sensation in auto racing.

After Abreu wowed an audience filled with NASCAR luminaries Saturday night in becoming the 18th winner of the prestigious Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., the whirlwind continued Tuesday with the announcement that he will run the full K&N Pro Series East Series this season with HScott Motorsports.

He hadn’t sat in a stock car until piloting a Late Model in a parking lot Monday, and he will mark his debut in a Super Late Model race Saturday at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway before the K&N Pro Series season opener Feb. 15 at the same track (NBC Sports will broadcast the event).

https://twitter.com/JMarksDE/status/557585672505397248/photo/1

Though he will be new to NASCAR, Abreu ingratiated himself with several movers and shakers last week in Tulsa.

Among the many well-wishers were Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Roger Penske.

“I never thought this day would come,” Abreu, 22, said. “It’s one of the biggest wins in my career. One I’ll never forget.”

The Rutherford, Calif., native’s story is a memorable one. Standing 4-foot-4 and weighing 95 pounds, Abreu uses foot blocks to reach the accelerator when he runs in sprint and midget series cars.

He has worked closely with NASCAR to ensure similar modifications would be allowed in the car, using spacers behind the seat to position him closer to the steering wheel and pedals.

“All modifications are really simple, nothing way off radar, and it’s really safe,” he said. “My whole goal was going to New Smyrna and getting laps and making sure I’m comfortable in the race car. You have to be 100 percent in these race cars, and you can’t lose concentration about being uncomfortable. That’s my biggest thing this weekend is being in the comfort zone, making sure everything is right and getting as many laps as I can.

“The pedals are mounted right underneath the dashboard, and it’s moved closer to reach electronics. You look at the cockpit, and it’s hard to tell the difference. The only difference is sitting a lot closer, and the pedals are closer. The adjustments aren’t that bad. NASCAR came and said everything looks safe.”

Though the timing of Tuesday’s news was fortuitous, the wheels have been in motion for a few months to bring Abreu to NASCAR after he notched 26 victories across sprint and USAC midget races last year and also won a national championship.

He is following in the footsteps of Chip Ganassi Racing driver and fellow California native Kyle Larson, who also is one of Abreu’s closest friends. It was Larson, who introduced Abreu to Stewart (who already has promised to help shuttle Abreu between Dover, Del., and Mechanicsburg, Pa., in late May so he can race K&N and sprint cars on the same weekend).

“I’ve known Kyle the last six years, and I consider him a brother,” Aberu said. “His parents could be my mom and dad with how close I am to his family and him. Kyle is the one I look up to and go to more than anything because of the close friendship and relationship together. The people I’ve met through Kyle with Tony and Kasey. There’s so many drivers I can go to for support and that will support me. My confidence is so high, and I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t think I’m going to have too many problems to deal with it.”

Besides the 14 K&N races, Abreu plans to fill the rest of his schedule with dirt-track events. “I think I’m more than capable of running 110 to 120” total races, he said, noting that Larson ran 130 times while winning the K&N East title in 2012.

Abreu is a relative newcomer to racing, having begun his career only a few years ago.

“When I grew up, I played sports, wrestled in middle school, then all my friends and classmates outgrew me, and I was limited to what I could do,” he said. “I became a big race fan. I didn’t even think I could race until I did it for the first time let alone be competitive so quickly in my career. It’s just so cool to see that people really believe in you and like to see you achieve.

“A lot of people believe in me, and it gives me a lot of confidence and humbled me. I’m glad people can see who I am. They don’t judge me for what I look like or why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I’m a racer and love the sport.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

0 Comments

Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2