TULSA, Okla. — Justin Grant’s result from the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire was like two sides of a coin.
On one side was the satisfaction of a career-best result at the Super Bowl of Midget Racing. Grant bettered the pair of third-place finishes he posted in 2017 and ’19 with Clauson Marshall Racing and RAMS Racing, respectively, in his first outing with the Dave and Matt Estep-owned RMS Racing team.
On the flip side, however, was the disappointment of finishing one spot short of taking home the coveted Golden Driller trophy, with Grant coming home as the bridesmaid to winner Kyle Larson after 55 laps at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
That was the balance of emotions that swung through Grant’s mind as he fielded questions from the media following Saturday night’s Chili Bowl finale.
It was a delicate balance, but one Grant handled with care and pride.
“I’m happy for RMS and my new team here. I’m happy for Thomas (Meseraull, teammate), who was a big part in building this car and bringing me onboard to this team. And I’m happy for NOS Energy Drink and everybody involved, Envirofab and all our partners, all the people that helped me out personally. I’m happy for all those guys and I feel like I did my job, but at the same time, it stings,” Grant said. “I’m not going to lie about that. It is bittersweet to run second. We come here once a year and, as a driver, you’re very rarely in a position to capitalize on a race like the Chili Bowl, you know? It’s not an easy race.
“More and more, it does seem like I’ve been in positions to capitalize here, but it’s still one of those races that you don’t have that many opportunities to win and I felt like we had a shot to win this one,” Grant continued. “When you’re that close, it’s satisfying to come here and have a good week and run well, but it’s tough because when you’re that close it’s like … ‘man, we almost had it,’ you know?
“But this is a great moment for our team and something I do feel gives us a lot of positive momentum.”
After lining up on the pole for the Chili Bowl main event, Grant lost the lead on the second attempt at the initial start and held serve in second for the majority of the 55-lap feature.
He lost the position to Christopher Bell inside of 10 laps to go but reclaimed second place after Bell flipped in turn three while attempting to chase down Larson.
After that, Grant had one more chance to pass Larson on the penultimate restart, but in making his move nearly threw away any shot at a podium finish.
“I think you all saw a bit of what went through my head, I thought, ‘Hey, maybe this is the move,’” Grant explained. “I threw it in, slid across there and hit the curb, and as soon as I hit it, I pretty much went ahead and assumed that we had turned over and that it screwed the car up. I think Thorson slammed into the left front and knocked the thing back out of the air, and it landed and took off … even though it caused some chaos behind us that was unfortunate for those guys. But I think any of those guys in my shoes would have had the same mindset I had.
“The Chili Bowl is one of those races that you don’t really come here to make money. It doesn’t pay amazingly great ($10,000 to win),” Grant noted. “You come here to take a trophy home; that’s the draw and we came up just short of being able to do that. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, though.”
Grant’s second-place finish led the way for the RMS team, which put four of its five entries — more than any other team — into the 24-car field for the Chili Bowl A Main.
Two-time World of Outlaws sprint car champion Brad Sweet came home eighth, just ahead of fellow sprint car ace and teammate-for-the-week Spencer Bayston, who placed ninth in his fourth career Chili Bowl feature.
Meseraull, who helped with the car builds for the majority of RMS’ Chili Bowl fleet, started inside the top 10 after a second-place finish on his preliminary night but failed to make it to the checkered flag in the Saturday finale after stripping the splines on the right-rear wheel of his No. 7x.
Despite Meseraull’s disappointing end to Chili Bowl week, Grant believes the overall strength the RMS team showed as a unit is proof they “aren’t just a flash-in-the-pan operation.”
Grant, who will chase the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series championship alongside Meseraull with RMS, feels the team’s Chili Bowl showing is the beginning of what they’re capable of.
“I wouldn’t have joined these guys if I didn’t see the potential here and I really feel strongly about what they’ve built and what we’re continuing to build,” Grant said. “Chili Bowl was a strong start for us, but it’s a long season ahead and there’s a lot more to come. We’ve got a lot of things we want to accomplish.
“Hopefully, we can start checking those boxes and really show people what we’re made of over the next few months.”
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