We’ve made it. Tonight’s 35th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals will take place inside of the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa. This year’s race has looked a lot like the past though with the same preliminary night winners as we’ve seen recently.
Last year, Cannon McIntosh (Monday), Kyle Larson (Tuesday), Rico Abreu (Wednesday), Christopher Bell (Thursday) and Tanner Thorson (Friday) won the features on those respective nights. This year, most have all won again with McIntosh-Larson-Abreu-Bell winning Monday-Thursday respectively.
Justin Grant did win last night for his fourth Friday night Chili Bowl feature win in the last five years though.
Larson has now won four straight Tuesday night A-Main features and five in the last seven years as well.
Abreu has won six straight Wednesday night A-Main features himself.
Bell won his sixth straight too on Thursday night and has seven preliminary night wins in the last eight years.
Now, we head into the Alphabet Soup portion of the day before the main event tonight. Will history keep repeating itself. If so, this could be a Larson-Bell-Abreu fight for the win later on this evening.
10 drivers have guaranteed spots with 14 left to fill today among 299 drivers trying to take them.
How To Watch – FloRacing with coverage
Schedule – Link here
Entry List – Link here
Lineup for all the features
Keith Kunz Motorsports recently has had a stranglehold on Golden Driller’s. Their trophy case was getting tighter and tighter by the year. The storied team had a five year reign between 2015 and 2019 of winning this race every single year. Then, Kyle Larson ended that five year domination though 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 as well as Larson each leaving following the 2019 season. Bell, left for CBI Industries after he had won the Chili Bowl in previous three years for KKM. Larson, also left as the NASCAR driver started his own team. Both were huge blows for the organization in terms of Chili Bowl wins.
They’d finish 1-2 last year as a result of that too. The year prior, they also finished 1-2, but were driving KKM Toyota’s though.
Last year, KKM brought in a ton of youth as replacements. 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 Kofoid. 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. Kofoid ran second to Bell on Thursday night. They’re all locked into the A-Main feature already. Can they beat Larson and Bell though?
They’re going to be in the hunt that’s for sure.
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. He dominated the VIROC on Tuesday night and stomped the field in his Thursday night’s qualifier.
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.
Favorites? 2021 Playing Out Like The Recent Past
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 looked great again this year in winning all three of their preliminary night features and also finished 1-2 in each of the past three years at that too. The three man tandem were also each in the top five in 2020 too. On top of that, they’ve 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.
2021 looks like 2020. 2020 looked a lot like 2019. 2019 looked similar to 2018. Bell-Larson-Abreu dominated those years.
Cannon McIntosh has to be the top sleeper. He had a superb season last year in the Midget ranks and even finished third in this race. He won his preliminary night feature on Monday and was second in the all-star race on Tuesday.
His teammate Buddy Kofoid could make some noise as well. He finished seventh last year and was runner-up to Bell on Thursday night.
These are the top two in the next grouping behind Bell-Larson-Abreu for the top drivers to win tonight.
Also don’t count out the Clauson Marshall Racing group. Hard to believe a team like this are sleepers, but they’ve not yet won the Chili Bowl and are flying under the radar.
2019 National Midget Champion Tyler Courtney was second on Monday night and will be making his fifth A-Main feature tonight. He hasn’t scored a top five yet but has alternated sixth place finishes every other year. He was sixth in 2017, 12th in 2018, sixth in 2019 and 11th last year. Trends say a top six is coming tonight.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could make a run. So could Cole Bodine. Will Ryan Newman or Chance Crum make their ways through the alphabet soup and get to the A-Main?
Defending Midget champion Chris Windom can make some noise too. He’s Bell’s teammate and has four top 10 finishes in seven Chili Bowl tries – but non though since 2014.
I also like Tanner Thorson’s chances. He has five top 10’s in six tries including three fourth place efforts.
Could Brad Sweet make a charge? He has made five A-Main starts and all have seen him finish in the top 10 in each. His best finish is third in 2013 and he looked stout in his preliminary night march.
Alex Bright was second on Wednesday night and fourth in 2014. He could be a big longshot that no one is talking about that could steal a win tonight.
Logan Seavey is my last sleeper. He’s with Swindell in the car that won four straight and was runner-up in the next two after. Seavey, finished ninth in 2019 and fourth in this No. 39 entry a year ago.
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.