TULSA, Okla. – Thursday’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals qualifying program saw two drivers turn their early struggles into the most improbable alphabet soup runs of the week, as both Tanner Thorson and Michael Pickens came all the way from their D-Mains to make the A on John Christner Trucking Night.
Thorson’s night went wild in hot laps, as he biked his No. 63 Dooling-Hayward/RCR entry going into turn three on his second lap as speed and nearly flipped, and then got worse in his heat race after a broken oil line sent him pit-side early on.
That placed him third in the first D-Main, after which Thorson promptly charged to the front and won the 10-lap contest to move on to the back of a C-Main. He rolled off 15th in that 12-lap race, stormed into a transfer position with five to go and ultimately won that as well.
The B-Main was a bit tougher, but Thorson was not to be denied there, either. He rolled from 13th to fourth in 10 laps and then held off a hard charge from Michael Faccinto in the final five rounds to secure the final transfer spot into the 25-lap feature.
If that weren’t enough, Thorson clawed his way up 12 spots in the A-Main after starting 23rd, securing hard charger honors for the night and placing himself on the pole of a C-Main for Saturday’s program.
It was a run built on willpower and driving determination, two factors that were in high supply for Thorson throughout the evening.
“It was a little bit mad, but we did what we needed to do,” said Thorson. “We got stuck there in the soup after an oil line came off in the heat race … we were the fastest car in our heat and just didn’t get the place we needed there, so it gave us a lot of work to do.”
“(Crew chief) Rusty Kunz and this whole Dooling-Hayward/RCR bunch had this thing set on kill all night. With Overkill (Motorsports) on the side of this piece, it’s pretty cool because several of the folks from the company were in the stands tonight to witness this run. We just went from the D to the A and I’m really happy to have such good people behind me.”
As effortless as Thorson made it look, he admitted it wasn’t nearly that easy at times.
“It got sketchy a couple times in the B-Main; we got to racing three-wide a few times and you didn’t know who was going to come out in front of who, so I just had to stay calm and keep my nose clean,” Thorson said. “We survived. I’m really thankful for that.”
And as far as his chances on Saturday? Thorson admitted his run likely saved any hope he has of getting through to the 55-lap championship finale.
“I think we saved our shot,” he said. “At the very least, this lets me sleep in a little longer on Saturday.”
Pickens’ run was sparked by a flip in his heat race which forced his Swindell Motorsports crew into quick action to get the car repaired in time for the second D-Main of the night.
Their thrash was ultimately successful, and then the New Zealander did the rest. Pickens came from seventh to win his D-Main, started 15th and got all the way to second to make it out of his C-Main and then charged from 14th to fourth in his B-Main to secure the final transfer spot, just as Thorson did.
Pickens couldn’t make quite as many moves as Thorson did in the 25-lap prelim feature, but still made a respectable run, passing 10 cars to go from 24th to 14th and putting himself in the middle of a C-Main for Saturday.
“The car was super fast,” Pickens said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to come through like we did, but that’s racing sometimes. We rallied back and we’ve got a shot for Saturday. That’s all you can ask for.”
Thorson gained a combined 37 positions during Thursday night’s program, while Pickens improved a whopping 39 spots over the course of the four races he ran in.