TULSA, Okla. – Local favorite Cannon McIntosh came into Monday’s Cummins Qualifying Night program just hoping to settle in with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports and run near the front of the field.
By the end of the night, he was submerged in a whirlwind of emotions and celebrating the biggest victory of his young career, a win that left an early mark on the KKM team and inked McIntosh’s name firmly on the midget landscape.
McIntosh pulled off a clean sweep of the Monday program to win in his KKM debut, topping his heat race, qualifying race and the 30-lap preliminary main event to earn a spot in Saturday’s pole shuffle and lock in to a top-10 grid spot for the championship finale.
While it looked like winged sprint car star Aaron Reutzel might have the hot hand early, leading laps five through 10, McIntosh stayed true to his race and capitalized when Reutzel was collected in a turn-two accident to reclaim the point for good.
Fending off furious charges from Tyler Courtney and Michael Pickens in the latter stages, McIntosh took control following an open red with eight laps left and slowly gapped Courtney to the finish.
It was a performance that McIntosh characterized as “picture perfect,” one that sets him up as an unlikely favorite to end Christopher Bell’s three-year Chili Bowl winning streak on Saturday night.
“This is absolutely huge,” the 17-year-old noted. “Every time I hit the race track tonight, the Toyota-powered Tulsa Sod and Mulch midget was just on rails. Keith Kunz and his crew had the thing hooked up, right from the first hot lap session. Even then, I was already somewhat comfortable and ready to go, and this thing was just super fast all night.
“I’m already ready for Saturday because I know that car’s not going to change much and the track’s going to be somewhat similar,” he added. “I don’t know that I would have said this before, but now … I think we have a decent shot at winning this whole deal. I really do.”
The end of the race led to a wave of emotions for the Bixby, Okla., teenager, as he celebrated with a series of victory donuts in turns three and four before climbing atop his car and fist pumping in front of a raucous crowd.
Upon climbing down from his car, McIntosh was engulfed in a hug by team co-owner Keith Kunz, who had no shortage of praise for his young driver at the end of the night.
“He’s just so good and he was so smooth,” Kunz said of McIntosh. “We knew he could do it and we worked hard to put the car underneath him all night that he could go out there and perform with. He did a great job and we’re proud of the effort he’s put in. He’s certainly proven he’s earned his place at the front of the field and we’re looking forward to Saturday night with him in the feature.”
As he worked to begin soaking in the moment Monday night, McIntosh was nearly at a loss for words in realizing that he’d won his first Chili Bowl preliminary feature just 30 minutes north of his hometown.
“I’m still going through processing it, to be honest,” McIntosh admitted. “I didn’t think I would be here, in this spot, at least any time soon.
“Just being from Bixby and being a hometown driver, it makes it really special to be able to come here and win, and then to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed after it’s over and just reflect is also pretty cool. The support here is just awesome for the hometown drivers,” he continued. “All the fans here in Oklahoma, you can just feel their love for dirt racing by the 15,000 or 16,000 fans that show up in this building. It’s just special to top two great guys like Aaron (Reutzel) and Tyler (Courtney) tonight.
“This is, for sure, a moment I won’t forget.”
Despite a statement victory, the soft-spoken McIntosh was quick to deflect any hype surrounding his efforts, even as onlookers began to put his name alongside Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson as a potential Chili Bowl winner – not to mention a quickly-rising superstar in the sport as a whole.
“Man, I like to stay humble about everything. You know, I ran fifth last year at the age of 16 on a prelim night, and I thought that was really cool. And we didn’t even think we’d get that done, but falling three spots short last year of making the (Saturday) A-Feature … we hung our heads afterward when we didn’t even think we’d be that close. It just made us want it so badly … to come as close as we did,” he said.
“When you see the good results, you put more pressure on yourself and you expect more out of yourself, but I don’t want to say that I’ve made it or anything like that yet,” McIntosh added. “Other people can say that if they want to, but right now my focus is just on enjoying the rest of the week and then getting back in and seeing what we can do come Saturday night.
“We’ve got a chance to do something pretty special then and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
But while McIntosh wasn’t ready to claim his place among the consistent frontrunners just yet, the buzz around the River Spirit Expo Center made one thing very clear.
His place in the bigger picture, perhaps penciled in last January, isn’t going anywhere after Monday night.
If anything, McIntosh’s story is just beginning.
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