TULSA, Okla. – Tanner Thorson proved Tuesday night that he just might have a race car strong enough to take the fight to the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports juggernaut at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Thorson dominated to win the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions for the second time in four years, leading all 20 laps of the all-star special event and earning a provisional into Saturday night’s Chili Bowl finale in the process.
It was a dramatic turnaround from a year ago for Thorson, who had to run from the D-main all the way through to the A-main on his preliminary night just to have a shot at making the championship feature.
There’s no worry about having to do that this time around the Minden, Nev., native and former USAC National Midget Series champion. He knows now he’s in the big dance no matter what.
“(The provisional) is great to have, but to be honest, I’d rather race my way in,” admitted Thorson, who will run during Friday’s preliminary night program.
“This car has been badass from day one. Ever since we got a midget with Clyde Lamar, these guys have worked their butts off to make it fast and give me what I need,” Thorson added. “Clyde is one of the best car owners out there who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. This is his first time to Chili Bowl and he’s proving really quickly what we’re capable of doing. Nothing’s going to get changed on this car between now and Friday and I’m confident that we can stay fast from here.”
Thorson earned a $2,500 payday for his win in the invitation-only event that featured past Chili Bowl winners, former VIROC winners and Chili Bowl owner champion selections.
While Thorson was running away out front, Kyle Larson took a car that team owner Keith Kunz built specifically for the VIROC and came through to finish second.
“This was good, but Tanner was obviously really fast,” Larson noted. “I needed to get to second before the caution came out. If I had been able to make that pass, I feel like I might have had a shot at him. I was just trying to make some things happen in turns one and two, but the track was really wide and slick over there and there was nothing to get ahold of on corner exit.
“It was fun, but we’ve got another shot to lock ourselves in and hopefully we can do that later on.”
The entertainment in the event came courtesy of two-time defending Chili Bowl winner Christopher Bell, who charged forward from 15th to complete the podium.
“I hope this is a good sign for the weekend, but man, Tanner was gone!” said Bell. “I couldn’t even see him. I got to fourth and started making ground on Bernal when he would miss his line in turn one, and after I passed him I knew that Kyle and I were pretty equal … but Tanner was just better than all of us.
“I don’t know how we stack up against Tanner right now, but thankfully we don’t have to race against him until Saturday night, so we’ll go to work and see what grip we can find to get this car better.”
Bernal, who drew the pole at the start of the night, faded to fourth and J.J. Yeley finished fifth.
The race was only slowed by one caution, which came on lap five when defending VIROC winner Chad Boat clipped the inside berm exiting turn four and collected Sammy Swindell and Damion Gardner as he came up the track on the frontstretch.
Tanner Thorson, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Ryan Bernal, J.J. Yeley, Logan Seavey, Danny Stratton, Tim McCreadie, Rico Abreu, Kasey Kahne, Tucker Klaasmeyer, Brad Loyet, Sammy Swindell, Chad Boat, Tracy Hines, Dave Darland, Aaron Reutzel, Brad Sweet, John Heydenreich, Damion Gardner.
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Watch The Chili Bowl Live: The Chili Bowl will be shown live online on www.racinboys.com. The online PPV experience will run from Monday through Saturday’s qualifiers. At the time of opening ceremonies (6 p.m. local time) on Saturday, Racinboys PPV coverage will cease as the final features will be shown live on MAVTV (more information here).