TULSA, Okla. — For the third time in as many nights, the checkered flag waved on a first-time winner during the 28th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bow Nationals presented by General Tire as Oklahoma’s Christopher Bell led flag-to-flag in Thursday’s John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night A-Feature.
Bell’s win marks the second of the week for an Oklahoma driver, as Jonathan Beason topped Tuesday’s qualifying feature.
“I don’t know if that was easy or not, but Keith (Kunz) definitely had me dialed in and the car drove itself around there,” said Bell. “It was avoiding the lapped cars and not getting involved in anything stupid.”
Bell was asked just how special the prelim win was to him.
“The Chili Bowl is the race to me. If there was one race I could run, it would be here, especially with it being in my home state,” he explained. “I guess this is one of the few time I get to race in Oklahoma, which is around my home crowd; it really is something special to me.”
In a race that took under five minutes to complete, the Norman, Okla., native hit slower traffic by the ninth round with a 1.506-second advantage over Damion Gardner. Able to slip the Keith Kunz No. 67k through the back markers, the Toyota powered entry raced into a roadblock with 11 laps remaining and Garner closing the gap.
“There was one time I passed the first lapped car and then he (Damion) moved to the bottom because he had been running the top and then he started keeping up with me,” said Bell. “I kept seeing his nose down there and I was like ‘Aw crap, Damion is down there.’”
As the non-stop run continued, Kevin Swindell was clawing his way through the field. Racing from a C-Feature after a flat tire forced the No. 39 to the pits in his heat, Swindell broke into the top 10 on lap eight. Steadily through the field, Swindell snagged fifth from Andrew Deal on the 15th circuit.
Into the final four laps, the top two steps on the podium remained unchanged as the pair continued to weave through traffic with the race for the final transfer into Saturday’s A-Feature shaping up between Michael Pickens and Kevin Swindell.
Throwing slide jobs on lap 21 through turns three and four, Swindell nearly slid through the cushion, allowing the New Zealand shoe to drive back under for the bronze position.
“I wasn’t totally comfortable with the car and settled for third and happy to be locked in and then all of the sudden Kevin comes up inside of me,” said Pickens. “I had to get going and was lucky we had another 10-percent left and was able to shake him off.”
Mired in slower traffic, Bell finished 2.850 seconds ahead of Gardner. Pickens held the final step on the podium, sending Swindell into a B-Feature on Saturday with a fourth-place finish after a B-Feature victory gridded the No. 39 17th.
Pennsylvania’s Steve Buckwalter completed the top five.
Thursday’s John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night saw 70 drivers draw in.
Four Chili Bowl Rookies started the A-Feature with Dominic Scelzi crossing 14th, followed by Chad Boespflug in 15th. Heath Duinkerken was 19th with James Eden 23rd.