Christopher Bell has a penchant for the big ones. Coming off a career year in which he began 2017 with his first Chili Bowl win and ended it by clinching the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, Bell opened 2018 in similar fashion by again winning one of racing’s most prestigious dirt races.
Bell, 23, started second in Saturday night’s 24-driver A-Main Feature championship race, dueled with fellow NASCAR star Kyle Larson, 25, and then capitalized on Larson’s apparent engine misfortune to go back-to-back at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, besting two-time champion Rico Abreu at the finish.
MORE: Recap Bell’s 2017
The Oklahoma native won the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based event, besting 344 other drivers over a long and ultimately fruitful week that had plenty of NASCAR flavor. In addition to Bell, Larson and Abreu (2015, 2016 winner), Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier made deep runs.
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Larson appeared to be the title favorite prior to his trouble. He started from the pole and traded the lead with Bell until having engine issues with less than 15 laps remaining while leading.
The Chili Bowl is an annual dirt midget race that has been held since 1987 and always draws interest from some of auto racing’s most talent drivers. The week-long event boasts five days of practice and qualifying events to set the 24-car field for the main event.
— Toyota Racing (@ToyotaRacing) January 14, 2018
The winner of the Chili Bowl is presented with the Golden Driller trophy, which Bell kept close to his side even on the plane ride heading back.
— Christopher Bell (@CBellRacing) January 14, 2018
Saturday started with two N-Feature races — the top four finishers from each N-Feature event advanced to the corresponding M-Feature races. Then the top four finishers from each M-Feature race then advanced into the L-Feature races. The format was used all the way up to the A-Main finale (six drivers advanced upward starting with D-Feature races), although drivers also could qualify for the A-Main throughout the week.
Larson qualified for the A-Main early in the week, along with future brother-in-law Brad Sweet. On Thursday, Bell qualified for the A-Main as well, showing early speed that ultimately foretold of his second consecutive Golden Driller trophy.
Kahne, who enters 2018 driving for Leavine Family Racing after six seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, finished ninth in the first of two B-Main races, the final set of qualifiers before the title race, and did not advance to the championship. Justin Allgaier spun and didn’t complete his B-Main race, finishing 18th and missing the title race as well.
Roush Fenway Racing’s Stenhouse Jr., fresh of his first trip to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, didn’t repeat his 2017 trip to the A-Main. He flipped in the second B-Main Feature, but walked away from the incident and indicated in post-race interviews that he was OK.