TULSA, Okla. — Drama was plenty when the checkered flag waved on the second night of the 28th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire, as Indiana’s Caleb Armstrong edged Sammy Swindell for his first Chili Bowl preliminary victory during Wednesday’s River Spirit Casino Qualifying Night.
The second first time winner in as many nights, Armstrong began the night’s 25-lap feature outside the front row. Slowed for a caution on lap two, Armstrong’s restart relegated the No. 7c to fourth behind Brad Loyet and Alex Sewell.
Working back to second by lap four, the cushion served the C&A Motorsports driver well, chasing down leader Chris Andrews by the seventh round as the pair approached the tail of the field.
Into traffic on lap 10, it was Andrews and Armstrong in a race all their own.
Completing the 12th circuit, the Baker Crop Insurance No. 7c worked around Tulsa’s Chis Andrews for the top spot. Clear from traffic, Andrews went for the slide job two laps later, but instead spun, bringing out the caution on lap 14.
Back underway with Chris Windom now in pursuit, the RFMS Racing shoe tried for the lead on lap 19, but was unable to finish the move.
Fifth-place Nick Knepper blew through the cushion in turn three on lap 21, bouncing the No. 55 off the wall as the engine expired down the frontstretch, pouring oil on the bottom of turns one and two.
With the caution displayed, track crews assessed the situation and brought the tiller out to work the nearly engine’s worth of oil into the bottom groove.
Aligned single file for the restart with five laps remaining, Swindell was now in the top five.
Into second with two laps to run, Swindell set his sights on the lead, pulling even with the No. 7c down the backstretch with Armstrong maintaining the point. Swindell again applied pressure at the white flag.
Committed to the cushion, Armstrong surrendered the lead through the first turn. Giving Swindell just over a half-car-length advantage, Armstrong pulled around the five-time Chili Bowl champion entering the final two turns. Nearly missing the line entering three, Armstrong pitched hard off the cushion exiting the final turn and edged Swindell by 0.441 seconds.
“I saw him (Swindell) stick his nose in there and I didn’t want to push the issue at first, but then I started pushing it,” Armstrong explained. “But I didn’t want to jump the curb. It was easy too, as I did it earlier in the race. I just kept on going and ended up winning.”
“I thought I could slip out there off of two in front of him (Armstrong) there on the last lap,” Swindell said. “I got there and it wasn’t the grip I thought was going to be there. I should’ve stayed on the bottom. I heard him coming. I just let it go. He ran a good race and I wasn’t going to mess that up.”
Chris Windom earned the final pass into Saturday’s championship event by finishing third.
“We had a really good car,” said Windom. “We were on Caleb there before that last yellow and I knew Sammy was coming plus I knew J.J. (Yeley) was good. They dug that track up in (Turns) one and two, and I made probably the wrong move staying on the top and Sammy got around me on the bottom. I just wasn’t sure what to do there.”
Racing with Rico Abreu for fourth, Yeley ended his night upside down after the two made contact exiting the fourth turn on the final lap. An angry Yeley was OK, but credited with 18th finishing position.
Abreu finished fourth with Brad Loyet fifth.
Of the 72 drivers scheduled for Wednesday night, 70 made the draw. Like Tuesday, two Chili Bowl rookies made the call for the A-Feature with Chris Andrews and Parker Price-Miller in the lineup.