Let the victory bells toll as Norman, Oklahoma’s Christopher Bell dominated the field for his second career preliminary night score during Thursday’s John Christner Trucking Qualifying night at the 30th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
“If you give me one race a year, it’s this race,” Bell said. “It’s something I want to win so badly and I promise, I want to win it more than anyone else in here. I’m glad to be in this position and hopefully can carry this momentum into Saturday.”
Earning the pole through heat and qualifier points, Bell made quick work of fellow front row starter, Sheldon Haudenschild, following two attempts at the start. Left to contend with Danny Stratton, the Bondio entry shot to the runner-up spot on the opening lap.
The caution flag waved on the seventh circuit, the green lights were short lived, however, as Haudenschild struck the cone on the restart, sending the Ohio driver to the tail.
Working to over a half-straightaway advantage before the caution flew again on lap 10, the pause this time was for second place Stratton, who found the wall that lines the top of turn three. He was okay, and with the help of the Hay lined wall was able to continue.
At speed once again, the Keith Kunz Motorsports No. 71 stayed high, wide and handsome, pulling to a nearly two second advantage before the 15th lap. While Bell pulled away, the race within the top-five began heating up as Jerry Coons Jr. arrived at the party from the 10th starting spot.
Having found fourth on lap 14, the Wilke-Pak No. 5 was able to maneuver all lines on the Tulsa Expo Raceway. Dicing it up with Tracy Hines for the third spot, the leaders began to hit slower traffic on the 18th lap.
Going to a three-car battle for second as traffic brought C.J. Leary to Hines and Coons, the pair worked to hold off the No. 5 machine. Working lap 20, traffic was an issue as Leary was able to bore a whole to proceed through the rush hour traffic, leaving a path for Coons to snag two spots before the caution flag waved on lap 21 for a tangle exiting turn two.
With a clear race track, Bell rode the wall to a 2.360 second advantage at the checkered flag. With Coons finishing second and qualifying for his 13th Chili Bowl feature.
Asked about the magic that he seems to have at the Tulsa Expo Raceway, Coons replied, “It’s just being with car owners and good cars. Things have changed over the years, set up and so forth, it’s just staying up with what’s changing. We had a couple of years where we struggled a bit and kind of caught up on some better setups.”
Shane Cottle put on a show on the closing lap, putting his No. 71x in the show with the pass for the final transfer spot on C.J. Leary.
“In the heat race, we had too much left rear drive. In the feature, we were a lot better and able to rotate the corners a lot better and keep it down low,” Cottle said. “Those guys wash out and I could get underneath them.”
Hines completed the top five. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came from 13th to sixth.
Is this the year that Christopher Bell steps up at Tulsa to take home the coveted “Driller”?
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!