The 2021 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals are now behind us. Kyle Larson won the 35th annual event on Saturday night to cap a week of thrilling action. Here are my top five moments as we look back on what was for the prestigious event this year.
Elliott/Moffitt Make Solid Debuts
The Midget world welcomed the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion as he and Truck Series star Brett Moffitt made their Chili Bowl debuts this week. They actually did a solid job at that too. Neither had any dirt experience prior to this offseason. Both also took part in Wednesday night’s preliminary action and each had a really good night under the circumstances that they were under.
Elliott’s night on Wednesday 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.
He was in the F-Main on Saturday as he came home seventh, two spots from the transfer spot.
Moffitt, flipped early in the night during hot laps 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. He saw his Chili Bowl end in the D-Main.
Bernal/Esberg Making Enemies
Friday night saw Anthony Esberg make plenty of enemies. It seemed as if he didn’t respect the race nor the people around him. Reports from those there said that he hasn’t raced anything other a go kart a few times over the last couple of years. He’s never raced on dirt and it showed.
He started on the front row for his heat race and he was all over the place. As a result, he took out several cars behind him including Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Then, he flipped pretty bad in which he got major air while also not wearing a HANS device.
It was almost a joke that he even was in Tulsa and plenty took notice of him in a wrong way.
Then, Ryan Bernal made everyone forget about Esberg 24 hours later. See, Esberg was the enemy of the event until Bernal made a costly mistake to spin Jason McDougal on the final lap in the final turn during the D-Main.
McDougal, marched all the way from the I-Main on Saturday morning and was in the final transfer spot again to make it to the C-Main. Bernal, drove way too deep into the third turn and took McDougal out.
It instantly put him as Public Enemy No. 1 after and made people forget about what transpired a night prior.
McDougal/Stenhouse’s Miraculous Marches
The two above may have had a hand in Jason McDougal and Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s Chili Bowl’s, but the runs that the two had on consecutive nights were nothing short of amazing.
Stenhouse, crashed due to Esberg in their heat race and finished seventh (DNF) as a result. He had to start in the C-Main on Friday night. He finished fourth and move to the B-Main. He started last (16th) and actually won the race to advance to the A-Main after. The NASCAR Cup Series driver went from 18th to finish third as that placed him on the pole for the B-Main on Saturday.
Stenhouse, went flag-to-flag in leading all 20 laps en route to the B-Main victory to ensure him a triumph to his seventh career main event. He would finish seventh, his best career result in seven tries.
The feel good story of the night on Saturday was McDougal. He started in the I-Main this morning and marched all the way to the D-Main in which his 2021 Chili Bowl ended in controversial fashion. McDougal, started fourth and won his I-Main feature to get things rolling. He then went from 11th to second in the H-Main, 12th to second in the G-Main, 17th to second in the F-Main and 17th again to second in the E-Main. He started 17th in the D-Main and made it up to fifth for the final transfer spot to the C-Main but was spun by Ryan Bernal in Turn 3 on the last lap which ended his night with a major disappointment.
McDougal, was well on his way to that final transfer spot and was going to make it if not for Bernal’s costly mistake. He made up over 50 spots on track before that incident.
KKM’s Youth Looks Bright
Keith Kunz Motorsports lost a lot over the last few years. Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson departed the storied organization for new endeavors. These are the top two Midget drivers in the game right now.
KKM replaced them with youth. 7 of their 10 drivers this week are teenagers. But, two of them are showing that they may have the next Bell and Larson already.
Cannon McIntosh won his Monday night preliminary feature in 2020. He backed that up with another this year. McIntosh, also was runner-up to Bell in the VIROC on Tuesday night as well. He finished fourth on Saturday night. He was third last year.
Buddy Kofoid is another star in the making. He’s being compared to as the next Bell. Last year’s Rookie of the Year was runner-up to Bell during the Thursday night preliminary night action and was in the top six during Saturday’s main event before a crash on Lap 39.
Combine Rico Abreu’s win on Wednesday night and you get two preliminary night wins in three days for KKM and a runner-up on Thursday. Abreu, has taken the new lead driver role while McIntosh and Kofoid are the future.
Christopher Bell rarely makes a mistake on dirt. He’s one of the best to ever do it. Bell, started third in Saturday night’s main event and had finished in the top two in each of the last four years. He three-peated from 2017 through 2019 and was runner-up to Larson last year.
Bell, was conservative throughout a majority of this race while riding behind Larson and Justin Grant in third. Then, with nine to go, it was go time. He powered his way past Grant for second and for the next seven laps challenged Larson for the lead.
Bell, so badly wanted to win another Golden Driller. He hated that he lost to Larson a year ago. Unfortunately, he pushed too hard and overstepped the limit which caused him to flip violently in Turn 3 with two laps remaining.
It was a scary moment but one that luckily saw him walk away under his own power.