TULSA, Okla. – One year ago, Kyle Larson finally achieved greatness by winning his first Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals title. Saturday night, he converted that greatness into immortality by adding a second Golden Driller trophy to his résumé.
Larson led every lap of the 35th running of the Super Bowl of Midget Racing, leaving no doubt on his way to back-to-back Chili Bowl victories in his own No. 01 MAVTV/JV1 Group King-Toyota.
The Elk Grove, Calif., native jetted to the point on the second attempt at the initial start, and never trailed from there in the 55-lap headliner. He fended off polesitter Justin Grant early and longtime rival Christopher Bell late before taking the checkered flag in front by 1.246 seconds in the end.
It marked the third time in the last seven years that a driver has posted repeat victories in the annual midget racing extravaganza. Larson (’20-’21) joins Bell (’17-’19) and Rico Abreu (’15-’16) in that category.
While Larson didn’t take the lead until well after halfway in his first Chili Bowl score, he admitted that playing defense for the entire race this year was a tall order.
“I had to work way harder for that one,” said Larson, who will return to full-time NASCAR Cup Series action next month with Hendrick Motorsports, in victory lane. “I could feel Grant pressuring me pretty much the whole race. There in the middle portion, the track really curved up. I wasn’t bad then. But at the end it built up a massive curb and I was trying to run hard … but when I would run hard I’d slam it (the cushion). If I ran easy I’d get tight against it. Once I saw Bell had gotten to second, I knew I had to try to be smarter and not make massive mistakes or I’d let him get by.
“I made a lot of massive mistakes during that race.”
An extended delay for track preparation following the night’s twin B Mains meant that the grand finale didn’t take the green flag until 11:21 p.m. CT.
Once underway, however, the feature lived up to its annual billing.
Grant got the better of Larson to begin the race, but Joe B. Miller’s flipping No. 49 before all cars had crossed on the opening lap led to a complete restart and gave Larson a second chance to capitalize.
Larson didn’t squander it, either, sprinting out to a seven car length lead by the end of the first lap before Brady Bacon got upside down in turn three for the second yellow of the night.
That time, a lap was put into the record book, leaving Larson out front for a single-file restart and giving him a lead he wouldn’t relinquish again. It didn’t mean there weren’t attempts to stop him, however.
Grant’s first look for the race lead came after a diamond off the fourth corner that gave the NOS Energy Drink No. 2j a look underneath Larson, but Kyle Cummins slowed with a flat tire to force the third caution of the event.
A longer green-flag run opened up from that point, with Larson getting into slower traffic and Grant staying with him, but never finding an opening to complete a move for the top spot.
Thomas Meseraull’s mechanical issues led to a yellow with 29 laps scored, but it wasn’t until a lap-38 restart – following a Buddy Kofoid incident in turns three and four – that things really heated up.
Eleventh-starting Tanner Thorson jumped to fourth with a slide job on Cannon McIntosh, while Larson steadily built a one-second advantage over Grant before traffic came back into play with 10 to go.
While Larson was fighting to lap cars, Bell was on the hunt and hungry for redemption. He got past Grant coming to nine laps left and was eager to get to Larson after being beaten by the No. 01 in 2020.
At the same time Bell passed Grant, Larson hit the outside berm and suddenly it was three cars under a blanket fighting for the Golden Driller. Grant faded quickly, but Bell was hot on Larson’s tail tank.
Larson tagged the cushion again on lap 50 and Bell nearly took advantage, but a yellow with four to go for a Blake Hahn spin thwarted Bell’s advance and put Larson in clean track.
Bell tried to run Larson down on the ensuing restart, but entering turn three with two laps left Bell slid up the race track and tagged the treacherous cushion, flipping his iRacing/CB Industries No. 84x and ending his run at a fourth Chili Bowl victory.
That left Larson leading over Grant, who attempted a huge slider on the penultimate restart of the race but couldn’t clear Larson and stacked up the field behind him as he hit the outside berm in turn one.
The accordion effect eventually caused Tyler Courtney to get upside down and set up one last restart.
Larson hit his marks over the race-ending two-lap dash, pulling away for his second Chili Bowl win over Grant, Thorson, McIntosh and a hard-charging Daryn Pittman, who came from 20th to finish fifth.
Chris Windom, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Sweet, Spencer Bayston and Logan Seavey closed the top 10.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic keeping some stalwart teams at home, 309 cars still drew in to compete during this year’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
The final World Wide Technology Raceway Flip Count ended at 69, with all drivers able to walk away.
Tulsa Expo Raceway will host the 36th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals from Jan. 10-15, 2022.
RESULTS: 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals; Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Raceway; Jan. 16, 2021
Lucas Oil A Feature (55 laps): 1. 01-Kyle Larson ; 2. 2J-Justin Grant ; 3. 08-Tanner Thorson ; 4. 71K-Cannon McIntosh ; 5. 21-Daryn Pittman ; 6. 89-Chris Windom ; 7. 17S-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ; 8. 1R-Brad Sweet ; 9. 1S-Spencer Bayston ; 10. 39-Logan Seavey ; 11. 39B-Cole Bodine ; 12. 25X-Alex Bright ; 13. 27W-Colby Copeland ; 14. 84X-Christopher Bell ; 15. 7C-Tyler Courtney ; 16. 97-Rico Abreu ; 17. 52-Blake Hahn ; 18. 3G-Kyle Cummins ; 19. 67-Michael Kofoid ; 20. 72-Chase Johnson ; 21. 7X-Thomas Meseraull ; 22. 21H-Brady Bacon ; 23. 3N-Jake Neuman ; 24. 49J-Joe B. Miller .
Lap Leader(s): Kyle Larson 1-55
Hard Charger: #21 – Daryn Pittman (+15)
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