TULSA, Okla. — Breaking a streak of first-time preliminary night winners during the 28th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire, Bryan Clauson blazed a trail to his second career prelim victory by topping Friday’s Vacuworx Global Qualifying Night at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
“The thing was on rail and has been on a rail since the time we unloaded on Monday. It was probably as good as I’ve felt in a race car here in the 10 years I’ve been coming,” Clauson said.
Amid questions about the car and the race, Clauson was also asked how he describes an event like the Chili Bowl to someone who has never attended.
“Maybe the only thing close to it is walking onto the grid for the Indy 500,” he said. “The crowd, the beach balls, the craziness that’s going on is the Chili Bowl.”
In a car purposely tooled for the Chili Bowl by 1996 co-owner champion, Rusty Kunz, the Indiana driver gridded the Dooling Machine / Rusty Kunz No. 63 outside of the front row. Giving chase at the start, it would be the Bondio built No. 47x of Tim McCreadie getting the jump to the race lead.
Working the inside groove, the 2008 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Champion was able to advance to a half straightaway advantage in the first five laps. Pushing the cushion from the start, Clauson slowly adjusted how he attached the top, cheating the cushion more and more to begin keeping pace with McCreadie.
As the gap between the pair closed with slower traffic looming, Clauson’s disadvantage began disappearing rapidly as the bottom line began to slow. Working the ninth round, Clauson began pulling alongside McCreadie as the caution flew for Trevor Kobylarz, who rolled to a stop exiting turn two.
With his line not revealed due to the caution, the restart saw McCreadie again roll the low line as the Curb No. 63 sailed to the lead the following lap.
“The one nice thing about running with Tim is that he’s going to stay on the bottom as long as possible,” said Clauson. “I felt like we had a pretty good car early on. I kind of watched the track as the night went on and it seemed to always take five or six laps for the track to even out. When I jumped up and didn’t really go backward, I was pretty happy.”
Abandoning the bottom after losing the lead, McCreadie had to contend with Dave Darland as the Indiana shoe felt the pressure from Daryn Pittman, who grabbed fourth away from Ryan Bernal on lap 13.
Asked if there was anything he could have done to adjust as some point, the late model ace replied, “I don’t know, I just don’t know the cars well enough to know what to do all the time in the seat. It’s no secret I run the bottom here because I just feel like I’m going to wheelie too much up there and that’s what we focus on. All my other stuff, I’m probably the first guy to the cushion.”
Caution on lap 15 just as Clauson was beginning to work slower traffic, the field ran single file to the cone with McCreadie trying low for the lead, but to no avail.
With Clauson quickly moving out of reach, McCreadie held off Darland for second, while Darland nipped Pittman for the final locked-in position in Saturday’s feature.
Clauson crossed the stripe with an advantage of 3.204 second.
“I knew the red No. 21 car, Pittman, was right behind me. He showed his nose a couple of times,” said Darland. “On the very last enter in Turn three, he slid up almost into the side of me, almost in front of me. I was glad, and kind of lucky to hang onto third place there at the end. I am happy with a third-place finish at this point.”
Bringing a close to qualifying nights for the 28th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire, 72 drivers drawing means the record for driver attendance, set in 2009, has been tied at 281.
Stacking all the way to the “L” Main, the top three from each qualifying night’s A-Feature drew for their starting spot in Saturday’s 55-lap feature.
Caleb Armstrong drew the pole for the championship event with Christopher Bell alongside.