VENTURA, Calif. — For the second-straight year, Christopher Bell defeated his close friend and midget-racing rival Kyle Larson to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway.
Bell charged past Larson in traffic with 12 laps to go and held Larson at bay through a sequence of frenetic, late-race restarts to secure his third overall Turkey Night crown on Thursday night during the 78th running of the historic event.
The 23-year-old from Norman, Okla., became the first driver since Billy Boat to win three or more Turkey Night features. Boat accomplished the feat in consecutive years, winning from 1995 to 1997.
“That was a lot of fun again!” said a jubilant Bell in victory lane. “For a while there, it was me, Kyle and Chad (Boat) … and this has been two years in a row now where the track has been pretty good.
“I just got lucky there, honestly, being in second and seeing some others make the bottom work in (turns) three and four. I figured it would just get better and better, and it did,” Bell noted. “I kind of trapped Kyle up top behind a lap car, squeaked by in the rubber and just made sure to hit my marks after that.”
It took Larson and Bell 52 laps to inhabit the same two positions they ended last year’s race in, primarily because outside polesitter Boat played spoiler for the first half of Thursday night’s race.
Boat dominated the early stages of the 98-lap marathon, leading largely uncontested for the first 25 laps, despite caution flags on laps nine and 18.
The first incident was for a two-car tangle between Sam Johnson and Robert Dalby in turn four, while the second caution came when Johnson, Holley Hollan and Alex Schutte got crossed up at the pit entrance gate in turn three.
Once racing resumed on the 26th round, Larson began peeking to Boat’s inside, while Bell entered the top five for the first time two circuits later.
One more slowdown for a Carson Garrett spin on lap 33 bunched the field up enough for the lead battle to intensify, but it wasn’t until lap 51 that Larson actually powered to the point for the first time, ripping around the outside of Boat’s No. 84 to seize control at the start/finish line.
Bell followed suit into second one lap later, quickly closing in on Larson and proceeding to stalk his friend before Ryan Robinson clipped a tractor tire in turn three and collected C.J. Leary to draw the fourth caution of the night with 55 laps complete.
That set up a dance of differing lanes, with Larson glued to the bottom and Bell rim-riding around the Ventura quarter-mile as the laps slowly began to tick off.
Bell’s first shot at the lead came on a restart with 28 to go, as he lobbed a bomb of a slide job into the first turn but came up short of clearing Larson, with the two narrowly avoiding contact and Bell resetting to take another stab at it.