"Bubba's" Cinderella Story Continues In Qualifying For A-Main
Dave Darland gunned into the lead at the outset and led all 25 laps to win Friday night's Oklahoma Dodge Dealers Qualifying feature event at Tulsa Expo Raceway's 21st Annual O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
Darland was chased to the stripe by two-time NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart, with Mat Neely taking the show position. Tuesday night's Warren Cat Pre-Qualifying feature winner, Gary "Bubba" Altig, drove to a fourth place finish and the final lock in-position to Saturday night's 50-lap Championship feature.
While Altig was now four-for-four (including a heat and feature win on Tuesday) in on-track Chili Bowl competition, Darland proved to be too stout in the Wilke-Pak RAJO Racing Stanton Mopar No. 5 Spike.
Darland shot into the lead at the drop of the green flag and weathered a number of caution flags over the distance to secure the win.
"I knew if I hit my lines just right, and I didn't hit it real good those last three or four laps, but I also knew that if I didn't really just screw it up totally there wasn't really much anywhere else either so as long as I didn't hit the wall down the straightaways was my main concern," Darland commented afterward. "Me and Tony (Stewart) talked about it that running first or second really doesn't matter. It does matter now that you think about it since the winners all start up front and second place starts behind that, so I'm glad I didn't think about that earlier."
Behind him, positions swapped hands several times, with Neely first racing past Altig for the runner-up slot on the second circuit. In those opening two laps, Stewart quickly advanced from his sixth starting position to fourth.
Darland made what was already a good night even better by drawing the pole position for Saturday night's O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals 50-lap championship main event. Darland will be flanked on the front row by Thursday's Bass Pro Shops Qualifying Night winner Shane Cottle.
"This is not just another race, that's for sure," Darland commented of a potential Chili Bowl win on Saturday night. "But once you get out there on the track, you've just got to try to calm yourself. It's definitely bigger than just a normal race and starting on the pole, that always makes me a little nervous but I wouldn't trade him (Stewart) for where he's starting. That's where I want to start, we are where we wanna be so hopefully we can pull it off."
While Darland earned the front row outside through heat and qualifying race action, it was Altig making a name for himself by first making a mid-race pass of Jason Martin to win the sixth heat and then charging from sixth to make a dramatic last corner move around Terry McCarl in the third qualifying race to earn the pole position.
Stewart moved in on Altig several times and successfully took over third only to have the moves negated by caution flags. Stewart was finally able to make the move stick on the 13th round, then wasted little time disposing of Neely for second by charging into the position a lap later.
Stewart tried to mount a challenge on Darland but was unable to make a serious bid, settling for second in the Tony Stewart Motorsports Chevrolet/Bass Pro No. 20 Spike.
Making a rare Midget start, Stewart commented that, "It took both those practice sessions that we got on Tuesday to get the bugs out and even a little bit today in the practice, it took a couple of laps to really start getting comfortable again.
"I feel like I'm a little bit behind the eight ball this year because of what happened," he explained of last year's Chili Bowl run that was cut short due to a Qualifying night flip. "With the way the second heat and the main turned out, I think we're right on par with where we need to be as far as confidence and feeling like we're back in the groove again."
Neely and Altig diced for the third position over the final rounds, with Neely taking the show position aboard Larry Gardner's Frampton Chevy-powered CB Fabricating No. 35 Stealth.
"If he (Altig) wouldn't have been in fourth, I would have got crashed," Neely explained. "We just got real free there on the last ten laps, we tried a new tire and it just didn't really work like we thought but I'm happy to get third."
Solidly establishing himself as the Cinderella story of the Chili Bowl Nationals, Altig nailed down the fourth and final lock-in to Saturday night's championship finale aboard the family-owned Fontana-powered Bullet Leasing No. 67a Stealth.
"It's a dream, I've watched these guys my whole life and they're where I wanna be sometime," Altig stated. "You can't ask for much more, these guys are great and I'm just glad to be a part of this deal."
Making his Midget racing debut, Sprint Car shoe Jason Martin made a bid for a top four position but settled for fifth, with 14th-starter Wayne Johnson a close sixth. Two-time Chili Bowl champion Dan Boorse advanced from 15th and then rebounded from a cone violation to snare seventh, with Tim Siner, Bobby East and Terry McCarl completing the top ten.
Dave Darland celebrates his victory in Friday night's Oklahoma Dodge Dealers Qualifying feature event at Tulsa Expo Raceway's 21st Annual O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
Tony Stewart (#20) battles with Chili Bowl Cinderella story Gary "Bubba" Altig in Friday night's 25-lap Oklahoma Dodge Dealers Qualifying feature event at Tulsa Expo Raceway's 21st Annual O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
Darland in victory lane after topping Friday night's 25-lap Oklahoma Dodge Dealers Qualifying feature event for the 21st Annual O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
Heat races for Friday night's 70-car Oklahoma Dodge Dealers Qualifying field were won by P.J. Jones, Josh Ford, Stewart, Boorse, Neely, Altig, Travis Berryhill, Doug Lippincott and Darland.
Bill Balog, Matt Mitchell, Cory Kruseman and Daniel Adler were victorious in Last Chance Race action, with Ronnie Burke, Jr., Martin, Altig and Ford topping the Qualifying Races.
Bobby Michnowicz and Kruseman split victory honors in the Twin "B" Mains. Kruseman, a two-time Chili Bowl champ, had advanced from 18th to seventh when he was collected in a lap 17 tangle that also included fifth-running Gary Taylor and sixth-runner Burke.
A record total of 267 different drivers have competed over the opening four nights of the 21st Annual O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. All will be in action during Oklahoma Dodge Dealers Championship Saturday, which kicks off with Twin "K" Mains at 1:30 p.m.