TULSA, Okla. — Kyle Larson simply wasn’t going to let a win escape him twice on Tuesday night at the Tulsa Expo Center.
Mere minutes after Chad Boat escaped to win the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions, Larson hopped into his No. 01 iRacing.com Bullet by Spike-Speedway Toyota entry and powered to the front of Tuesday’s 25-lap Warren CAT Qualifying Night A-Feature.
Larson edged polesitter Zach Daum on lap eight and then pulled away to a commanding gap over the field, leading the final 18 laps of the 25-lap main for his fourth career preliminary night win at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
The win was exceptionally special due to the fact that Larson is driving a car owned by his father Mike this year, though it is still being prepared by Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports.
“This is so cool to get a win for my dad and Mag1k Motorsports,” said Larson. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to say I won a race with him as the car owner … I think it goes back to when I was racing go-karts, so it’s really cool to win for him and iRacing and everyone who is onboard with our car.”
“I want to give a special thanks to Keith Kunz and team for all they’ve done for me and my career, as well. I’m extremely thankful for that. Man, it’s cool to be back here up on this stage.”
Larson’s fourth Chili Bowl preliminary win ties him for third all-time in qualifying night victories at the Chili Bowl, drawing him level with the late Bryan Clauson, one of his long-time friends and mentors.
He reminisced on Clauson giving him a special break, ironically enough at the Chili Bowl, after learning of the statistic on the podium.
” I can’t remember what year it was, maybe 2010 … but I was sitting in the grandstands on Friday night during the National Anthem and he (Clauson) gave me a shot to come down and fill in for one of his sick drivers. That’s something that I’ll always remember.”
“To tie him in prelim wins is pretty special, but I also want to match him and win a Saturday night feature as well.”
Daum got the jump over Larson when the initial green flag waved, jetting out to a four-car-length lead before the yellow flag waved with three laps complete for a slowing Dustin Golobic.
Undeterred, Daum adjusted his line slightly when racing resumed, finding additional speed to pull away from Larson on the restart before another caution flew with five rotations complete, this time for a spinning R.J. Johnson in turn four.
The next restart was where Larson began to shine. He stalked Daum for two laps before blasting to the outside, edging ahead by .042 of a second on lap eight before clearing Daum and taking off on the ninth round.
A flipping Dillon Welch drew the caution one lap prior to halfway, but even Daum’s best efforts on the next green flag weren’t enough to keep Larson from slowly pulling away.
Brad Sweet finally dispatched Daum for the runner-up spot on lap 16, while Daum’s night came to a rough end four circuits later, when Travis Rilat went for a tumble in turn two and Daum stalled his No. 5d trying to avoid the melee.
Daum was sent to the rear for stopping on-track, and he finished 16th in the final rundown.
Meanwhile, Sweet hung onto second to seal his place in the championship finale for the fourth time and first since 2013, ending a five-year dry spell inside the Tulsa Expo Center.
“We were good tonight,” Sweet said. “The track got slick and tricky, but Rusty gave me a great race car.”
“Kyle started struggling a little bit toward the end, I think, while we were able to just get rolling. I was searching around toward the end … sometimes you want to be in second and I think tonight, it was a little better (to be there) … so I just kind of moved around and found something late in the going.”
Sweet added that his team is “feeling good” about finally being back in the big dance.
“Hopefully we can come back Saturday and challenge for the win, but man, this is a nice start. Now, the rest of the week, we can sit back, relax, and watch the races. The stress comes off when you lock in … so maybe we can even have a couple beers too.”
Clauson-Marshall Racing’s Tyler Courtney completed the podium in third, locking into his second-straight finale after making his debut appearance in the 55-lapper last January.
“We were good all night tonight,” Courtney said. “Kyle was just a little bit better. That’s to be expected, though, because he’s good in pretty much anything he gets in.”
“I can’t complain at all. These Clauson-Marshall guys gave me a really good car tonight and we were able to do something with it. We’re in the big dance now; that’s the important thing. There’s a lot of weight lifted off our shoulders because of that.”
Englishman Tom Harris just missed the cut in fourth, followed by reigning POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League champion Logan Seavey.
Rookie Gio Scelzi, Jake Neuman, Brad Loyet, Scott Evans and Justin Peck completed the top 10.
NASCAR XFINITY Series star Justin Allgaier was 12th in Tuesday night’s A-Feature, transferring in through one of the twin B-Mains, while names like Derek Hagar and Chad Boespflug missed the cut in the last chance races.
To see full results, turn to the next page.