Photo: Chili Bowl

Bell, NASCAR stars dominate Thursday prelims at Chili Bowl

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Christopher Bell dominated Thursday night’s preliminary feature ahead of Saturday’s Chili Bowl, in a flag-to-flag race win.

Bell started from pole in the 25-lap feature at River Spirit Expo Center at Tulsa’s Expo Square and led the rest of the way, even despite a flurry of cautions and a wealth of action behind him. Bell, who won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora last year, earns a spot in Saturday night’s 55-lap feature.

Short track veteran Jerry Coons Jr. drove from 10th on the grid to second to make it to his 13th straight consecutive Chili Bowl final, while Shane Cottle grabbed third place from C.J. Leary on the final lap. Both of those two raced their way into the main event on Saturday.

Beyond Bell, fellow NASCAR drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier and Tanner Berryhill all made the A Main. Stenhouse finished best of those three, finishing sixth after starting 13th.

NASCAR TIES: Allgaier, Stenhouse Jr., Berryhill and Bell all won in their respective eight-lap heat races. … Allgaier and Bell then proceeded to finish 1-2 in the second of four 10-lap qualifying races, while Berryhill and Stenhouse were 2-3 in the third to advance to the A Main.

NOTABLE: IndyCar owner Sarah Fisher finished sixth, and sports car veteran Chris Dyson fifth, in their respective heat races. … Both Dyson and Fisher then ended sixth in the first and second C Mains. Another competitor punted Dyson, while Fisher was reportedly behind two cars that tangled at the finish; Kip Hughes and Mark Chisholm both flipped but were OK. … Brady Bacon, a past driver for Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, finished fifth in his qualifying race and second in the second B Main, by just 0.03 of a second to Justin Peck. … Short track veteran and 2005 Chili Bowl winner Tracy Hines captured a win in the fourth qualifying race.

NEXT: Friday’s qualifying races mark the last day of action before the Saturday feature race. Those of note set to run include Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne, short track veterans Bryan Clauson, Dave Darland, Daryn Pittman, Cory Kruseman, John Heydenreich, Damion Gardner and Jac Haudenschild, 2006 Chili Bowl winner Tim McCreadie, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Chad Boat and IndyCar crew member Anton Julian, among others. A full list is here.


FEATURE RACE RESULTS:

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
24-91K-Kevin Bayer

Full results from Thursday’s races

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994