TULSA, Okla. – Despite the red-hot action on-track during Saturday’s 55-lap finale to the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, there was one notable name in the pit area who struggled to crack a smile at the entertainment.
And understandably so, as for the first time since 2003, the Chili Bowl championship A-Feature took the green flag without the Wilke-PAK No. 5 Spike/Stanton-SR11 of Jerry Coons Jr. in the starting field.
Coons saw a streak of 14-straight finale starts at the Chili Bowl come to an end after a 10th-place finish in Saturday night’s first B-Feature. He fought to advance through traffic after rolling off 13th, and simply couldn’t get far enough forward in 20 laps around the quarter-mile dirt oval.
The Tucson, Arizona native said afterwards that there was never one big factor that kept him out of the big show, but simply that he and his team were “just a little bit short every time we were out on-track.”
“We were just behind the eight-ball all weekend, to be honest with you,” said Coons. “We didn’t have any bad runs; but being one position off here and there … when you’re at the Chili Bowl, that adds up pretty quick on finale night. Our heat race and qualifier on Thursday just put us a little too far back.”
“I felt like our speed was there to maintain well, but we needed track position. … It’s a testament to how tough this race is to make. Last year, (2005 winner) Tracy Hines went backwards and I went forward and made the show. This year, he was good and we weren’t.”
“It’s just the Chili Bowl, man. One down year doesn’t define you. We’ll be back to try again.”
– Though Ryan Bernal and Tanner Thorson advanced the most positions during Saturday night’s finale, neither driver was the one who passed the most cars during their alphabet soup runs on championship day.
That honor went to World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series regular Shane Stewart, who both competed in the most main events (four) on Saturday and advanced the most positions in doing so.
Stewart, who piloted the No. 22E Spike-Esslinger for Stephenson Motorsports, came out of the first L-Feature and ran all the way up to the first of two I-Features, ultimately finishing three spots outside the transfer in that 10-lap contest.
Even still, Stewart left the Tulsa Expo Center smiling at what he called “a positive run.”
“I felt like I was pretty good,” said Stewart. “I was a little free in the last race that I ran, but what really hurt me was the single-file restart. On the double-file starts, I felt like I had a good shot to pass some more cars, but once they went single-file it made things a little tough.”
“Still, four features is nothing to shake our heads about. We’ll come back next year to try again and I’ll get some more seat time and keep getting comfortable in these things. … The car quitting before the C on our prelim night just buried us. It was fun to come through there, though.”