TULSA, Okla. – By virtue of being the lone first-year participant to make the 55-lap championship feature, Buddy Kofoid earned Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals rookie-of-the-year honors on Saturday.
The 18-year-old Californian ran an impressive third on his preliminary night, finishing just behind Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson, then followed that performance up by racing his way into the big show through the second of two B-mains Saturday night, leading all 20 laps and never faltering.
Kofoid started 12th in the finale and, despite a mid-race incident where he ended up spinning and having to go to the tail of the field, advanced up to seventh by the time the checkered flag waved.
That had the likable teenager beaming after the race, pleased with what he and Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports were able to accomplish.
“It is pretty stellar,” Kofoid said of earning top rookie honors at the Chili Bowl. “To go out on our prelim night and finish third, start pole in the second B-main on Saturday and just race in the A was super cool,” Kofoid noted. “That B was probably the most stressful race of my life, though, even though I was able to get the lead and lead all 20 laps. But it wasn’t easy. That was a tough race with how the track was and there’s so much pressure on it, but I was able to lock it in and secure rookie of the year in doing so.
“To do that and to be the only driver that was a rookie to make the (big) show was very special.”
It was certainly one of the more memorable drives by a Chili Bowl rookie in recent years, considering reigning rookie of the year Zeb Wise fell just short of the A-main field during his 2019 run and Gio Scelzi finished last in the 2018 Saturday A-main after mechanical woes cut his rookie effort short.
But in digging through the record books, Kofoid’s run became even more notable.
Across the 17-year history of the Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year Award, Kofoid’s effort Saturday night stacked up as the third-best of all time.
The young gun tied himself with inaugural recipient Danny Stratton’s 2004 run and landed behind only Michael Pickens’ sixth-place A-main finish in 2005 and the late Donnie Ray Crawford, who remains the lone rookie contender since the inception of the award to earn a top-five finish by placing fifth in 2007.
Appropriately, Crawford’s run came at the wheel of a Keith Kunz Motorsports entry, much like the No. 67 Mobil 1-branded machine that Kofoid steered during this year’s Chili Bowl Nationals.
However, in looking at the final tally, Kofoid believed he could have been even just a little bit better, given that he had to play from behind for much of Saturday’s main event.
“Man, we started 12th, and when the track was hooked up, we were really quick. I think we got to eighth just running the bottom,” Kofoid pointed out. “I had really good speed in the beginning, but really maintained throughout the whole race, I felt like. I think we had gotten up to sixth or seventh, and then someone slid someone and got in a little too far and tried to backpedal, and once that happened they started to spin around. So I checked up, and when I did, the person behind me got in the back of me and just spun me around.
“I felt like we were just as fast as fifth and sixth, but the track was just really tricky the last handful of laps and I was able to just hang on to seventh, but I can’t thank Keith Kunz Motorsports enough,” Kofoid added. “Keith (Kunz) and Pete (Willoughby) gave me a really great Mobil 1 Toyota; without them, this wouldn’t be possible. It’s crazy. Not that long ago, I dreamt of being in this position, so to be here and to finish seventh at my first Chili Bowl with rookie of the year is nothing to hang our heads about.
“I’m proud of that and we’ll take this momentum and hopefully roll it into the season.”
Kofoid joins an exclusive list of top Chili Bowl rookies, which includes Wise, Scelzi, 10-time World of Outlaws sprint car champion Donny Schatz and former USAC national midget titlist Spencer Bayston.
“It’s very few and far between,” noted Kofoid. “To be able to have something like that as an award is very, very special, and it’s pretty humbling. When you look around, this place is flooded with people and cars, and there’s a reason for that. To be seventh and to be the best rookie out of a list of 70-plus rookies is just very tremendous.
“I’m proud of that. It’s been a very big week.”
Chili Bowl Rookies of the Year
2020 – Buddy Kofoid, seventh in A-Main
2019 – Zeb Wise, ninth in B-Main 2
2018 – Gio Scelzi, 24th in A-Main
2017 – Donny Schatz, seventh in B-Main 1
2016 – Joe B. Miller, 21st in A-Main
2015 – Spencer Bayston, 18th in A-Main
2014 – Parker Price-Miller, 11th in B-Main 2
2013 – D.J. Netto, 17th in B-Main 2
2012 – Richard Vander Weerd, 20th in A-Main
2011 – Tyler Courtney, 16th in B-Main 1
2010 – Brad Mosen, 20th in A-Main
2009 – Shane Hmiel, seventh in B-Main 2
2008 – Brad Sweet, 11th in B-Main 2
2007 – Donnie Ray Crawford, fifth in A-Main
2006 – Mike Goodman, 17th in A-Main
2005 – Michael Pickens, sixth in A-Main
2004 – Danny Stratton, seventh in A-Main
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Toyota Racing Development has won five consecutive Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals features. Thanks to Mobil 1, SPEED SPORT is providing exclusive coverage of the multi-car organization, led by three-time winner Christopher Bell and two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu, as well as other Toyota-equipped organizations and drivers, as they prepare for and compete in the Chili Bowl. The Mobil 1 Road To The Driller program is in addition to SPEED SPORT and Sprint Car & Midget’s traditional “Live from the Chili Bowl presented by MyRacePass” coverage that surrounds the event.