TULSA, Okla. — On Christmas Eve, Ronnie Gardner believed his chances of competing during the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals were slim, if not gone completely.
The ninth-place finisher in the 2017 Super Bowl of Midget Racing was in need of an engine or a completely separate ride. At that point, the power plant for his No. 68 midget wasn’t going to be ready in time for Gardner to bring his traditional Six-8 Motorsports Ride to the River Spirit Expo Center.
Late in the game but I’m prolly looking for a chilibowl ride. Engine for the 68 might not be ready. Please RT.
— Ronnie Gardner (@Ronnie_Gardner) December 25, 2020
However, thanks to an outpouring of support after Gardner’s Twitter post looking for help, the Corona, Calif., will campaign his Esslinger-powered Stewart Chassis midget after all.
“We weren’t going to be here with this car and then we finally raised enough money to get the motor fixed and put back in,” Gardner said Sunday. “It’s been a thrash.”
Gardner hasn’t made the Saturday feature at the Chili Bowl since his breakthrough appearance three years ago and his on-track laps were limited last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, that’s not stopping him from shooting high. With a new-look paint scheme on both his car and the one his teammate-for-the-week Danny Stratton will drive, Gardner believes he can get back in the big show and shine once again.
“I know we’re capable; we’ve done it before. It’s just getting the right breaks,” Gardner relayed. “We want to be sitting in the field Saturday night and have another shot at it.”
— Notably, Stratton’s presence as Gardner’s teammate is somewhat unusual. It’s one of several unique driver and team pairings at this year’s Chili Bowl created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of pandemic restrictions, multiple teams from California and elsewhere across the country are not in attendance in Tulsa. Stratton’s normal ride — the No. 47 midget owned by two-time Chili Bowl-winning car owner Andy Bondio — is among the notable entries that didn’t make a Tulsa pilgrimage.
— The Bondio cars aren’t the only two cars out of action this week. Cory Kruseman, who won both his Chili Bowl titles driving for Bondio, didn’t bring his multi-car team to Tulsa for the first time in two decades.
It’s the first time since Kruseman raced in Australia in 2001 that he hasn’t either driven or served as a car owner at the Super Bowl of Midget Racing.
California car owner Del Morris, who made the show with Chase Johnson in 2018, is also not fielding any Chili Bowl entries for the 35th edition of the event.
— Chase Elliott’s presence at the Chili Bowl marks the first time since 2012, when Tony Stewart came to the event fresh off his third NASCAR Cup Series championship, that the reigning premier series titlist has competed inTulsa.
Stewart is a 12-time main event starter with two wins, who now annually helps with Chili Bowl track preparation, while Elliott is a rookie making his first Chili Bowl appearance.
— Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports is fielding the most entries this year at the Chili Bowl Nationals, with 10 cars and two cars running during each preliminary night.
Dave Mac Motorsports and Matt Wood Racing are tied for second in that category, with seven entries apiece. It’s the first time either DMM or MWR has run that many cars at the Chili Bowl.
— For the third year in a row, only the top-two finishers from each preliminary night will lock into Saturday’s main event and participate in the pole dash that sets the first five rows of the grid.
The change was made in 2019 due to the shift from a four prelim-night format to a five-night format, when the Monday program was added because of rising car counts.
— Cannon McIntosh (Monday), Kyle Larson (Tuesday), Rico Abreu (Wednesday), Christopher Bell (Thursday) and Tanner Thorson (Friday) are the reigning winners of the five prelim nights.
Action on each night begins at 5 p.m. CT, while Saturday’s alphabet soup program begins at 10 a.m. CT.
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