TULSA, Okla. — Rico Abreu continued his Wednesday night dominance at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals with his fifth win in the last six years during Hard Rock Casino Qualifying Night.
Abreu started outside the front row in the 30-lap main event and stalked early leader Brad Sweet for the first third of the race, before engaging in a slide-job war with the reigning World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion for three straight laps prior to halfway.
Finally, coming to the crossed flags, Abreu slid past Sweet working through traffic to assume a lead he would never relinquish again.
Despite three yellows in the final 10 laps — including a game-changing flip by Sweet with four laps to go — Abreu stayed true out front and pulled away to a 1.1-second victory at the checkered flag.
Considering he didn’t make the preliminary night feature in 2017, Abreu has won every Wednesday main event he’s started in dating back to 2015.
“It’s pretty impressive to win five,” Abreu said. “I’ve always come here really prepared, and it all starts with your heat race and getting through your qualifier, and getting good track position for the feature.
“This is for my guys, Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby,” Abreu said. “This is my eighth Chili Bowl with them and this goes back to my dad pushing me to follow my dreams. I can’t thank him enough for that. We always come here to win and this is a great night for the whole team.”
While Abreu was controlling the final 16 laps out front, the battle for the second and final lock-in spot was nothing short of torrid.
With the battle nearly three wide at times during the closing stages, Colby Copeland took advantage of Sweet’s wide arc on a lap-17 restart to wrest the runner-up spot away in his Matt Wood Racing No. 27w.
However, disaster nearly bit him moments before that move, when Copeland drove over a spinning Ronnie Gardner’s left-rear tire in turn two and somehow kept going despite nearly stalling the car.
From there, Copeland went to work, dispatched Sweet and held off a bevy of challenges over the last 13 laps en route to locking in for his third career Saturday A-main start.
“You know, the pace slowed up, and Ronnie Gardner tried to slide a lap car … and I just monster trucked him to try to not stall it,” Copeland said. “After that we had a leak in the radiator or something, because the (water) temps went up, so we’re lucky to be here. I was overheating and the engine was stumbling on restarts; I wasn’t sure if it would hold on, but thankfully it did.”
Blake Hahn completed the podium, keeping his own car going after attempting to slide Sweet for third with four to go and making contact with Sweet’s No. 1r and sending Sweet flipping wildly in turn four.
The Grass Valley, Calif., native was uninjured, but his quest for a strong finish was over.
Chase Johnson crossed fourth for the single-car Malloy Motorsports operation, while five-time Chili Bowl champion Sammy Swindell climbed from 13th to complete the top five.
Tyler Thomas, David Gravel, Tim McCreadie, Jake Swanson and Gio Scelzi filled out the top 10.
The most-nervous moment of the feature came with seven laps to run, when Jesse Colwell flipped in turn one and bounced off the top of Parker Price-Miller’s roll cage before coming to rest on his lid.
Colwell quickly walked away, while safety crews tended to a shaken Price-Miller. The Kokomo, Ind., native was checked and cleared, later confirming to SPEED SPORT that he was “OK but sore.”
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