As they might say in Oklahoma, “That Sooner kid done good.”
Less than a month after turning 22 years old, Norman, Oklahoma native Christopher Bell earned the biggest victory of his young racing career, capturing the 31st Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals Saturday night at the indoor Tulsa Expo Raceway.
It has been Bell’s lifelong dream to win the Chili Bowl in his home state, and he did so Saturday in commanding fashion.
Starting from the outside of the front row, Bell – who drives fulltime in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (finished third in 2016) for Kyle Busch Motorsports – stayed near the front of the field for much of the 55 laps to capture the prestigious Golden Driller trophy.
“I’m speechless right now,” Bell told ChiliBowl.com. “I’ve been coming to this building for so long trying to win one of these things, and I thought I was really close to one at the Shootout a couple weeks ago, but we had a lot of bad luck but I’ll trade all that bad luck in for this Driller right here. This means the world to me.”
Bell becomes the second Oklahoma native to win the Chili Bowl in its 31-year existence. Andy Hillenburg was the first, in 1994.
In an ironic twist, Hillenburg won the first Chili Bowl title for Keith Kunz Motorsports. Since then, KKM has recorded five additional Chili Bowl wins, with Bell being the sixth and most recent to do so.
“You know, I’ve been in this position before,” Bell said. “I think this is the third time I’ve started on the front row and I would run into trouble because I was pushing too hard.
“Every time I’ve come here, it’s been attack, attack, attack and in this 55 lap race, you don’t need to do that so I just ran as hard as I needed too.”
This was Bell’s fourth appearance in the A-Feature to decide the Chili Bowl’s championship.
Pole sitter Justin Grant led the first 25 laps in the Clauson-Marshal No. 39BC (in memory of 2014 Chili Bowl champion, the late Bryan Clauson).
But from that point on, it was Bell’s race.
Fellow Sooner Daryn Pittman, from Owasso, Oklahoma, finished second. Pittman experienced engine problems late in the race that kept him from making a late surge and challenge of Bell. Still, it was Pittman’s first podium finish in seven Chili Bowl starts.
“We don’t have a spare engine, so we weren’t able to change it,” Pittman told ChiliBowl.com. “… It lasted for 54 and three-quarter laps.”
Grant finished third in his second A-Feature appearance.
“It’s just a thrill to be driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing,” Grant told ChiliBowl.com. “Obviously, I wanted to win for him (Bryan Clauson) really bad, but I’m on the podium at Chili Bowl so I should be happy about that.”
Rounding out the top-10 were Tanner Thorson (fourth), Jake Swanson (fifth), Tyler Courtney (sixth), Zach Daum (seventh), Jerry Coons Jr. (eighth), Ronnie Gardner (ninth) and Damion Gardner (10th).
Competing in his first Chili Bowl, veteran sprint car driver Donny Schatz, earned 2017 Rookie of the Year honors, finishing seventh in the B-Feature.
Rico Abreu, who won the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Chili Bowl, finished 11th. Abreu announced last week he would not be returning to NASCAR in 2017.
Although there were six NASCAR drivers entered in the record 365-driver overall Chili Bowl field, only two made the championship race: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 16th, and K&N Pro Series driver Chase Briscoe, who finished 22nd (DNF).
Other NASCAR drivers Kyle Larson, J.J. Yeley and Justin Allgaier fell short in their efforts to reach the main event.
The 32nd Chili Bowl will be held January 9-13, 2018, again at the River Spirit Expo Center (also known as Tulsa Expo Raceway).
Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire
Tulsa Expo Raceway – Tulsa, Okla.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Lucas Oil/General Tire Championship Night
Event Count: 365 (New Record)
A-FEATURE (car number, driver name, starting position):
A Feature (55 Laps): 1. 71W-Christopher Bell; 2. 21-Daryn Pittman; 3. 39BC-Justin Grant; 4. 67-Tanner Thorson; 5. 68W-Jake Swanson; 6. 7BC-Tyler Courtney; 7. 5D-Zach Daum; 8. 5-Jerry Coons Jr.; 9. 68-Ronnie Gardner; 10. 71G-Damion Gardner; 11. 97-Rico Abreu; 12. 31-Travis Berryhill; 13. 99W-Larry Wight; 14. 25C-C.J. Leary; 15. 17W-Shane Golobic; 16. 17BC-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.; 17. 91T-Tyler Thomas; 18. 35F-Michael Faccinto; 19. 51X-Colby Copeland; 20. (DNF) 8J-Jonathan Beason; 21. (DNF) 47-Danny Stratton; 22. (DNF) 5CB-Chase Briscoe; 23. (DNF) 1R-Thomas Meseraull; 24. (DNF) 5X-Justin Peck; 25. (DNF) 05T-Gary Taylor.