TULSA, Okla. – A marathon Warren CAT Qualifying Night ended with a familiar result Tuesday at Tulsa Expo Raceway during the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Kyle Larson, the perennial force when it comes to Tuesday’s Chili Bowl festivities, won his seventh preliminary feature in the last decade with a seemingly dominant performance.
But while the box score shows Larson led the final 23 laps of an overtime-extended main event, his win didn’t come without intense pressure in the closing laps at the temporary quarter-mile dirt track.
Three caution flags inside the final 10 laps – including two that produced green-white-checkered restarts – meant that Larson was forced to defend the bottom on a track that was locked down against the inside berm with a thick groove of rubber.
The first incident that bunched the field together was with nine laps left, when Shane Cottle and Mitchell Davis tangled in turn one. That erased a near one-second lead for Larson and set up Shane Golobic and Thomas Meseraull on his tail tank for a sprint to the finish.
Larson gingerly pulled away when the race went back green, making it all the way to two to go before encountering lap traffic and seeing his advantage dwindle down to nothing.
The leaders took the white flag as Larson lapped Tanner Carrick down the frontstretch. When Golobic moved low to follow suit, Carrick – who was buried after being put to the tail for hitting the restart cone while running third on a lap-seven restart – came down into Golobic’s car entering turn one.
Carrick and Golobic got hooked together at that point, with Golobic ramping over Carrick’s tire and ending up suspended in the air. The caution waved, and a potential lock-in spot for Golobic evaporated.
That left Meseraull on Larson’s tail, and he stayed right with the defending Chili Bowl champion on the ensuing restart. Meseraull gave Larson a shot in the rear bumper coming off turn two on the white-flag lap, but a spinning Carson Kvapil forced another yellow and pushed the race from 30 laps to 31.
Though Meseraull tried to replicate his move, this time in turn three on the final rotation, Larson was able to hang on in the JVi Group/MAVTV No. 01 King-Toyota for his fourth straight prelim night win.
It moved him to within one of Sammy Swindell’s all-time record of eight preliminary feature victories.
“I just had to be patient and not get off the bottom and do anything irresponsible to give the race away, essentially,” Larson said. “I hated to see (Golobic) get into Carrick there. He had an A Main lock-in spot, and I hate that for Shane and Matt Wood and everybody who works on their equipment over there. They’ve had some bad luck these last two nights.
“Hopefully, their team can finish it out strong the rest of the week, but this is a good one for us.”
Meseraull hung on to second, fending off Zach Daum to lock into the Chili Bowl finale for the second straight year with RMS Racing and eighth time overall.
“We picked up a lucky break there at the end,” Meseraull noted. “We were running third. I was going to run third on the white flag lap. I don’t know what Golobic was thinking. It wouldn’t have mattered if he got in line; I couldn’t pass him anyways. Tough luck for those guys. Their bad luck was our good luck.”
Daum’s podium effort puts him near the front of a B Main for Saturday night. Cole Bodine and Danny Stratton were fourth and fifth, respectively, at the checkered flag.
Derek Hagar, Chase Johnson, Hank Davis, Daison Pursley and Frank Flud filled out the top 10.
The Tuesday program, which also featured the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions won by Christopher Bell, started at 4:30 p.m. CT and took more than seven hours to complete.
The week-long World Wide Technology Raceway Flip Count ballooned Tuesday as well, with 16 flips during the night increasing the total through two days to 22. All drivers walked away uninjured.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.