TULSA, Okla. – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson took the first step towards avenging his bitter defeat from last year’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals by winning on Warren CAT Qualifying Night for the second year in a row Tuesday night.
Larson powered past polesitter and early leader Zach Daum on lap six of the 25-lap A-main and never looked back, motoring away over the remaining distance despite two cautions to pick up the victory in his No. 01 McDonald’s Bullet/Toyota.
Tuesday’s victory for the Elk Grove, Calif., native keeps Larson undefeated in preliminary night action since moving over to the entry co-owned by his father Mike and the powerhouse Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team.
He now has five total Chili Bowl preliminary wins, third on the all-time list behind Cory Kruseman and Sammy Swindell, who each have seven apiece.
“That might be the second time I got Zach (Daum) in a prelim night,” noted Larson. “They work the track before the feature, so as the leader you just have to run the bottom until you hear somebody or see somebody (on the outside). I was just able to get around him … and it was nice to get to the lead there and run a good pace, but I was hoping I would get a caution before I got close to traffic.”
“I was nervous starting on the outside of the front row,” Larson admitted. “I was worried that the bottom was going to be really, really good for the first couple of laps and I’d fall back to fourth or fifth, but it worked out to where I had pretty good grip and ran a few laps on the bottom. Then Zach started missing the bottom of the corners, so I moved up and was able to get by him quickly. It felt good.”
After a blown engine robbed him of a chance to secure his first Golden Driller trophy, Larson is hoping this year can be the salve that puts all his past Tulsa misfortunes behind him at long last.
However, he knows it won’t be easy, especially since his teammate has won the last two Chili Bowls.
“Considering what his trophy case looks like, (Christopher) Bell is definitely the favorite, I think,” Larson noted. “We’re not going to let him have it, though, by any stretch. Last year was rough, but we’ve got a good car this time and I think we’ll be there. … My car felt pretty good. I didn’t run too hard throughout that whole race. I didn’t want to make any mistakes that would cost ourselves a top two.”
Though Daum jumped out to the early advantage, Larson stayed glued in his tire tracks through the early stages of the race after starting on the outside pole. After making his successful bid for the lead on the sixth round, Larson’s advance wasn’t slowed until 10 to go, when Kyle Jones nearly spun in front of him.
Undeterred, Larson resumed command until the final caution with five laps left for the expired engine on Larry Wight’s machine, never looking back after the final restart while Daum held Jonathan Beason at bay to secure the second and final lock-in position to Saturday’s finale.
After the race, Daum was extremely relieved to know he’ll be in his seventh Saturday A-main.
“I started catching him before that last caution, but congratulations to Keith and Kyle,” Daum said. “They’re the benchmark over here, so we’re going to work on it on Saturday. If he had messed up, I would have thrown something at him. I figured I might spook him, but Kyle Larson’s too good to spook.
“I’ll take it. We’re locked in, and that’s the main thing,” he continued. “We’ll do the pole shuffle or whatever we do on Friday and see where we can put it on Saturday.”
Beason charged from 10th to third, but didn’t quite have enough in the tank to guarantee himself a spot in the finale, so he’ll start up front in one of Saturday’s B-mains.
Michael Faccinto and Sam Hafertepe Jr. followed in fourth and fifth, respectively.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.