It’s hard to believe but we’ve already made it to the 35th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. The racing offseason is about to an abrupt close with Midget action on the indoor dirt track in Tulsa this week only to be followed by the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona a couple of weeks later.
But, for the 35th edition of his prestigious race in general, there are plenty of storylines surrounding the big event. Here are my top five with info on how to watch this week, the schedule and who’s racing.
How To Watch – FloRacing with coverage
Schedule – Link here
Entry List – Link here
Keith Kunz Motorsports has had a stranglehold on Golden Driller’s. Their trophy case was getting tight. The storied team had a five year reign between 2015 and 2019 of winning this race every single year. Kyle Larson though ended that five year domination with an emotional triumph in last year’s race.
But, KKM also had a ton of changeover between 2019 and 2020 anyways.
The most notable was Christopher Bell leaving for CBI Industries. He had won the Chili Bowl in previous three years for KKM. Larson too was a KKM driver and he too left as the NASCAR driver started his own team between 2019 and 2020. That was another huge blow for the organization.
They’d finish 1-2 last year as a result. The year prior, they also finished 1-2, but were driving KKM Toyota’s though.
Also, they brought in a ton of youth to the team as well last year. That stays the same for 2021. 70% of their driver lineup this week are teenagers. But, they do have some talent among them though with two time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu being back in the No. 97 Toyota. So is last year’s rookie of the year Buddy Kofoit. Then budding stars like Cannon McIntosh, Kaylee Bryson and Holley Hollan rejoin the team for another shot at glory.
Can the KKM youth challenge for Golden Driller’s again or are they another year away?
Right now, they look like challengers again. McIntosh and Abreu gave KKM two preliminary night feature wins in three days with McIntosh winning his second straight on Monday and Abreu his sixth straight on Wednesday. They’re locked into the A-Main feature already. Can they beat Larson and Bell though?
CB Industries Time To Shine?
With KKM taking a step back last year and having seven of their 10 drivers being under the age of 20 this year too, the door is wide open for a Golden Driller again. Is this the year CB Industries triumphs?
I mean, just look at the recent teams to have won this prestigious race. Swindell won five straight years between 2009 and 2013. Sammy Swindell started it off in ’09 with his son Kevin winning four straight Chili Bowls after.
Then, it was Dooling/Rusty Kunz snapping the Swindell family streak in 2014 with Bryan Clauson coming victorious. KKM won the next five (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) before Larson’s triumph a year ago.
Dooling/Rusty Kunz aren’t likely to win with their lineups this year. Swindell has Sammy and Logan Seavey and are a formidable pair to contend with. Larson will always be a factor and Rico Abreu is KKM’s best bet.
Despite that, CBI is there and ready to pounce too.
They were great in 2019 and again in 2020 but ready to take the next step. With Christopher Bell back in the No. 84X and the Oklahoma native having four straight top two finishes in this race, he has to be among the favorites this week. So does defending midget champion Chris Windom. He’s in the No. 89 entry again. Then you have Aaron Reutzel, Gio Scelzi and Dillon Welch with them and you get a five man group that can shine.
Kyle Larson said last year’s Chili Bowl triumph was the biggest win of his career. He values a Chili Bowl victory as much as a Daytona 500 and that grew some stark criticism. But, who can blame him? This is a big event and Larson cares deeply about dirt racing. It’s a big race for him and who are we to judge.
Not only did he finally win after years of trying, he did so with his own team. That’s what made this even bigger. Now, he returns in the same midget, but in vastly different circumstances.
Larson, used a racial slur last April and cost him his NASCAR ride. It did allow him to go back to his roots and race on dirt again for the rest of the year while he tried to clean up his image. He only won half of his races, literally, and won over a half-a-million dollars in the process.
Larson, signed with Hendrick Motorsports for 2021 in the aftermath. But, before he joins his new team at Daytona next month, he’s returning to the Chili Bowl to where he’s comfortable. Can he repeat?
He won last year and was second in 2019. He’s got a great shot of a second Golden Driller on Saturday night. He won his Tuesday night preliminary feature again and looked like the class of the field in doing so. He’ll make his 10th A-Main start on Saturday.
NASCAR Flavor, But Chase Elliott Makes Chili Bowl Debut Headlining This Popular List
Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell have combined to win each of the last four Chili Bowl’s. Those NASCAR stars are back in Oklahoma for a chance at extending this streak to five. Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are back with Clauson Marshall Racing. Chase Briscoe will race. So will Kasey Kahne. So will Justin Allgaier and JJ Yeley. There’s a ton on NASCAR connections on this entry list as always. But, one name standing out over the rest though is the defending Cup Series champion – Chase Elliott.
He will make his Chili Bowl debut this weekend running the No. 9E Midget. He’s arguably going to be getting bigger storylines about him than those like Larson and Bell.
Elliott, is the three time defending NASCAR Most Popular Driver award recipient. He’s coming off of a championship. Now, he’s giving dirt racing a try in a Midget.
It’s a big deal to see him put this together. But, he has a tall task ahead of him now though. His qualifying night consisted of a fourth place finish in his heat race, followed by coming home seventh in his qualifying race. That put him in the B-Main to where he was running fifth before spinning on track. That forced him to restart in the back as he solidly made up eight positions after to come home eighth. It will put him in the F-Main on Saturday night. That though is a tall task ahead of him. The last time a driver went from the F-Main to the A-Main for the main event was JJ Yeley in 2004.
One driver flying under the radar is Iowa’s Brett Moffitt. He will race too for the first time in a Midget. He’s piloting the No. 45M entry.
He flipped early in the night on Wednesday and was hit hard by another driver. Luckily, he was able to walk away. He’d rebound though to come home second in his heat race, seventh in his qualifying race and fourth in the B-Main which propelled him to an A-Main appearance. It was a race he’d finish 18th in.
This is a fun group of drivers with Elliott arguably the headliner among them despite no prior history in this race.
25% Capacity Limit
We’re used to seeing the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa packed to the core with race fans for the week. This time, it will look different. There’s a 25-percent capacity limit due to COVID-19 restrictions. It will have a different feel with 75-percent of the seats not filled, but at least we’re having the show.
It will be a historic race because of this.
Can anyone top Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell or Rico Abreu this year? The former KKM teammates may drive for three different teams now, but this trio has also combined to win each of the last six years in the Chili Bowl too. Can they make it a lucky No. 7?
It will honestly take a lot to beat them. You’ll have to be damned near perfect in fact. They’ve finished 1-2 in each of the past three years at that. All three were in the top five in 2020. They’ve also led 145 out of the last 165 laps (88%) run in the A Main Feature.
Since 2018, only Logan Seavey has led a lap in the Chili Bowl’s A-Main outside of Larson, Bell and Abreu. He led the first 20 laps in 2019 before Bell and Larson took over from there.
Then, if you factor in the late great Bryan Clauson and you see further dominance. Larson, Bell, Abreu and Clauson combined to lead 87% (335-for-385) laps since 2014. Just Seavey (20 laps led in 2019), Justin Grant (25 laps led in 2017) and Caleb Armstrong (5 laps led in 2014) have led laps outside of this great foursome since 2014.
Can anyone new join them this weekend? It’s going to be hard with how well Larson, Bell and Abreu have been racing.