TULSA, Okla. – Much like the late Jason Leffler used to do inside the Tulsa Expo Center, Jake Swanson dug in and got his elbows up during Hard Rock Casino Qualifying Night on Wednesday.
Swanson, who normally competes with the AMSOIL USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series and finished fifth in points with that tour last year, had a banner preliminary night in his attempt to make the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals finale for the second time.
The 25-year-old product of Anaheim, Calif., had to race his way into the 25-lapper through a B main, but once he got into the field he made plenty of noise. Swanson charged from 17th into the top 10 in just nine laps, then found the top five with eight to go as he engaged in a furious four-way fight for position.
Swanson sparred with eventual third-place finisher Cole Bodine for multiple laps after coming forward on the outside, trying desperately to find a way past but being unable to do so.
He ultimately took the checkered flag in fourth, locking into a B main on Saturday night and giving himself a great chance at racing his way into the 55-lap championship feature.
Asked after the race if he would have anticipated this kind of a result after being buried in points early on, Swanson grinned and shook his head.
“I didn’t think there was any way we could do something quite like this,” he said. “This was a lot of fun, though. We got stuck deep early in the night, but all my guys dug deep and worked on this piece … and got it good for me when it counted. We came from a long way back.
“Obviously, you want to lock in right away and not have to deal with the (alphabet) soup on Saturday, but we don’t have to deal with much of it now, so that’s a pretty big relief and we can focus on working our way into the big show now. I’m stoked.”
– While Swanson moved forward, it was a rough night for one of the drivers expected to contend for a lock-in spot, Clauson-Marshall Racing’s Chris Windom.
Windom was tangled up in an accordion-style stack-up on lap four of the 25-lap feature, making heavy contact with Holley Hollan as he was bounced around like a pinball in the middle of the pack.
His No. 17 NOS Energy Drink entry was able to keep going before Matt Westfall stopped to bring out the caution flag, but Windom quickly exited the track and headed to the work area, where he was trapped after the team ran out of time to change tires on his machine.
That meant Windom was relegated to 23rd in the final rundown and an E main for Saturday’s program.
– Indiana’s Justin Peck made the championship A main at the Chili Bowl just two years ago, but his focus this time wasn’t even on making the feature on his preliminary night at the Tulsa Expo Center.
Instead, Peck was “just here to have fun,” knowing the Kevin Arnold-owned No. 43 he is driving this week didn’t have the speed to contend with the power teams racing each night.
However, Peck exceeded his own expectations for the week by a mile after racing his way into Wednesday night’s preliminary feature through his B main, then going from 19th to 12th in 25 laps to place himself solidly into a C main on Saturday night.
That’s a statement Peck and his small team feel they can be proud of.
“We weren’t here to go all-out and risk everything because we felt we should be in the A on Saturday; we were just here to have a heck of a good time this week and enjoy every minute of the experience,” Peck said. “Once we figured out what we were missing with the car, though, it just came to life. We made some changes that breathed new life into our entire week.
“To be in a C … it won’t be easy, but we have a shot at the A on Saturday night and that’s more than I could have hoped for. I’m super proud of everyone and to do this is just really cool, man.”
– The official Chili Bowl Flip Count stands at 22 as the six-day pilgrimage to Tulsa crosses its halfway point. All drivers involved has been able to walk away so far.
Wednesday night’s biggest moment came when the No. 50J of Brian Jones went tumbling down the frontstretch and up into the catchfence entering turn one, damaging the fence and leading to a 10-minute red flag for repairs.
– NASCAR’s Landon Cassill and IndyCar’s Conor Daly got to put their dirt-newbie rivalry to the test on Wednesday night, putting together comparable performances and gaining knowledge along the way.
Both started eighth in their respective C mains, with Cassill maintaining position all the way through, while Daly advanced two positions to better the score and finish sixth.
“For the record, it wasn’t fair tonight, because he has four minutes more of experience than I do,” Cassill complained jokingly. “We both had fun, though.”
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Watch The Chili Bowl Live: The Chili Bowl will be shown live online on www.racinboys.com. The online PPV experience will run from Monday through Saturday’s qualifiers. At the time of opening ceremonies (6 p.m. local time) on Saturday, Racinboys PPV coverage will cease as the final features will be shown live on MAVTV (more information here).