Sammy Swindell Sweeps Through Wednesday Chili Bowl Qualifier
Through two nights of competition at the 23rd Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire, Sammy Swindell stands undefeated.
After serving notice with a convincing Race of Champions triumph on Tuesday night, Swindell took on a field of 68 competitors in Wednesday night's Creek Nation Casino Qualifying Showdown at the QuikTrip Center's Tulsa Expo Raceway.
Piloting an unconventional Midget, at least in terms of appearance with an old super modified style tailtank, the four-time Chili Bowl king put a whooping on the mostly younger generation of racers by winning his heat race, qualifying race and then wiring the field in the 25-lap "A" Feature event.
Queried about the unique tailtank, Swindell simply said, "It's a secret," with a sly grin.
Only J.J. Yeley could keep Swindell in sight in the feature event. But, when Swindell cleared a group of three lapped cars on the white flag lap, the victory aboard the Esslinger-powered Venture Racing/ARIENCO/York Excavating No. 1 Spike was as good as sealed.
"We didn’t really have to press anything, I didn't want to give it away or beat myself," Swindell commented after securing his 16th career Chili Bowl championship main event start. "The thing's been fantastic all week, it's so easy to drive and a lot of fun to drive."
While Swindell assured himself of a prime starting position in his pursuit of an unprecedented fifth Chili Bowl championship and accompanying Golden Driller trophy to go along with wins in 1989, 1992, 1996 and 1998, Yeley and third-place finisher Jon Stanbrough both locked themselves into Saturday night's 50-lap finale as well.
Swindell's strength on the racetrack was evident from the outset. And, if there were any doubts about the nature of his Race of Champions win on Tuesday night, they were promptly dispelled when he raced from three rows deep to make a last-lap pass of California's Brent Camarillo in the night's fourth heat race.
The Sprint Car racing legend backed it up by making a second sixth-to-first charge in the first qualifying race, making a move around Josh Ford on the eighth of ten laps.
From the pole position in the feature, there was no stopping Swindell. After weathering three cautions over the initial eight circuits as Stanbrough and Darren Hagen diced for second along with Yeley, Swindell cruised a handful of car-lengths ahead of Yeley in the race's mid-stages until hitting lapped traffic on the 15th round.
By the 20th circuit, Swindell found himself mired behind a pair of lapped cars as Yeley closed to within striking distance. Traffic finally worked to Swindell's favor before Yeley could pounce, and Swindell galloped the final lap-and-a-half to the checkered flag unabated.
Yeley brought Cruz Pedregon's Toyota-powered Odyssey Extreme Batteries/Hot Hues No. 1J Spike across the stripe second. Yeley commented that, "I've been in the alphabet soup so many times here that second place is just like winning 'cause I know on Saturday I'm locked in the 'A' and that's a lot less races than I'm used to running here."
Wingless Sprint Car ace Stanbrough secured a fifth consecutive Chili Bowl championship main event start by taking the show position aboard the Loyet Motorsports Esslinger Ford-powered No. 05s Spike.
Stanbrough explained of his late race strategy that, "We just stayed down there and tried to play it smart so we'd be in the show for Saturday night. We know what we did wrong and hopefully we can fix it and be a little better Saturday night."
Josh Ford, a two-time Chili Bowl preliminary main event winner, settled for fourth with Thomas Meseraull rounding out the top five.
Chris Windom claimed sixth, with Kevin Ramey racing from 20th to seventh in his first Chili Bowl "A" Feature action. Mike Goodman was eighth, with Hagen and 18th-starter Gary Wright completing the top ten.
Three Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year contenders made it into Wednesday night's main event, with Shane Hmiel's 14th-place run besting rookie foes Austen Wheatley (16th) and Bruce Douglass (20th).
Originally slated to start the feature from the sixth row inside, Bryan Clauson tagged the tail of the field after a quick trip to the work area to tend to mechanical issues. A fourth-place finisher at last year's Chili Bowl Nationals, Clauson carved through half the field in the opening eight laps before eventually finishing eleventh.
Hagen, Wheatley, Matt Sherrell, Swindell, Nick Wean, Joey Fabozzi, Ford, Austin Mero and Clauson each posted heat race wins, with Swindell, Windom, Joey Moughan and Meseraull topping the qualifying races.
Brady Bacon wired the field in the first "C" Main before being collected in a late-race tangle while battling for the final transfer from a "B" Main aced by Hmiel.
Jonathan Halford made last-lap pass of Donnie Lehmann to win the second "C" Main, with Wright winning the second "B" Main over fellow Texan Ramey, who edged Wean at the line for second.
California's Tim Spurgeon became the 1,000th different competitor in Chili Bowl history when he took the green flag in the night's seventh heat race. He went on to become the night's third flip victim when he got upside down in the first "C" Main.
The most spectacular of the night's half-dozen flips was 2006 Chili Bowl winner Tim McCreadie's wicked ride over the turn one barriers while handily leading the night's first "A" qualifier. The rear axle snapped as McCreadie set his mount to enter turn one on the fifth round, nearly sending the Watertown, NY, hotshoe out of the building.
Qualifying night action at the 23rd Annual Chili Bowl Nationals continues with Thursday night's Warren CAT Qualifying event, with heat races slated to start at 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday Night: Kuhn Captures Chili Bowl Opener in Final Corner
The 23rd Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire kicked off in the most dramatic of fashions at the QuikTrip Center's Tulsa Expo Raceway on Tuesday night as Brad Kuhn slipped around Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., in the final pair of corners to win the 25-lap O'Reilly Qualifying feature event.
Collecting his second Chili Bowl preliminary feature win in as many years, Indiana's Kuhn locked himself into Saturday night's 50-lap Chili Bowl championship main event along with Memphis-area shoe Stenhouse and third-place finisher Steve Buckwalter of Royersford, PA.
"I didn't think I had the patience to do it 25 laps (run the bottom), thankfully Ricky didn't," Kuhn commented afterward.
While 67 drivers battled it out on the first of four Chili Bowl qualifying nights, four-time Chili Bowl king Sammy Swindell fought off a late bid from Tim McCreadie to win the 20-lap Race of Champions.
Kuhn's triumph in the nightcap main event, which assures him a starting berth among the front two rows of his fourth career Chili Bowl championship main event, came at the expense of open wheel grad and rising NASCAR star Stenhouse, who had paced 22 circuits and survived a scrape with fellow Memphis-area native Kevin Swindell along the way.
"When Kevin got up there on the outside and they got together, I think Ricky started searching more and that's what opened the door up," Kuhn commented.
After chasing Buckwalter to the stripe in his heat race after starting from the pole and then climbing from seventh to third in his qualifier, Kuhn gridded the feature field inside the fifth row aboard the Toyota-powered RW Motorsports No. 17b Beast.
The two-time National Midget Driver of the Year spent minimal mid-pack time though, cracking the top three by the time two laps were in the books. And after a rousing final set of ten laps, it was Kuhn's bold move to the inside of Stenhouse that netted the win.
Kuhn explained that, "I kept inching up on him, when we came off the backstretch I was kinda reserved to run second there and just be locked in to save our car but when I got such a good run off of two and I got in there, I decided, 'Well we're just gonna go for it and see what happens'."
Setting the stage for the electrifying finish, reigning Badger Midget champion Mike Hess gunned into the lead from the pole position and paced the initial two rounds before getting into turn three too hot and spinning to a stop.
Third-starter Stenhouse assumed the point and led the ensuing circuits in front of front row outside starter Casey Shuman and Kuhn, as the younger Swindell tried to make it an "All-Swindell" night after watching his father take Race of Champions honors.
Kevin Swindell's night had opened with a close heat race win over Chad McDaniel. But a qualifying race spin after contact with McDaniel sent last year's sixth-place Chili Bowl finisher to a "B" Main that he won to earn the 17th starting slot in the feature.
Swindell wasted little time racing through the field, advancing to eighth by the time Brady Short spun with three laps in the books and then having a nifty move from fourth to second on the seventh circuit negated by a Ricky Williams spin in turn four.
The young gun from Germantown, TN, soon battled his way past Shuman and Kuhn as he set his sights on the pacesetting Stenhouse, who hails from nearby Olive Branch, MS. The battle came to a premature end though when Stenhouse clipped the berm exiting turn four and skittered across the track with the resulting contact sending Swindell into the wall and onto the hook eleven laps short of the checkered flag.
"I just got into the berm there coming off of four and it shot me off the racetrack," Stenhouse explained of the incident. "I tried stopping, but I didn't even know he was out there and just got into him.
With Stenhouse treading the top side of turns one and two and the bottom of three and four aboard the Esslinger-powered RFMS Racing No. 132 Spike over the final circuits, Kuhn and Shuman rode right behind waiting for an opening. And then 11th-starting Buckwalter, who bounced back from a Race of Champions flip, rode the high side into lead contention to make it a four-way duel for the point as chief starter Roger Slack gave the five laps-to-go signal.
Kuhn finally established a grip on second and moved in on Stenhouse, setting up the picture perfect move that netted the win in front of a packed house.
"I pushed him as hard as I could and tried slowing him down, but there wasn't anything I could do," Stenhouse explained of the final corner. "I probably should of gone to the top all the way just to see what would happen."
With Kuhn, Stenhouse and Buckwalter enjoying podium festivities, Shuman was the odd-man out as he finished one spot shy of a lock-in position by taking the checkered flag in fourth, with Bobby East rounding out the top five.
Chad Kemenah got a dose of Chili Bowl alphabet soup activity by racing to a "C" Main win, a "B" Main win and then charging to sixth in the feature event from 18th to boost his total of cars passed in Tuesday feature action to 25.
Running sixth in the early stages, Danny Lasoski rebounded from a lap eight spin in turn three to post a seventh-place showing, with Gary Taylor, USAC/CRA champion Mike Spencer and 19th-starter Terry McCarl completing the top ten.
A pair of Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year contenders made the feature cut on Tuesday night with POWRi Midget shoe Daniel Robinson claiming 14th and Pennsylvania teen Cody Darrah credited with 23rd after an opening lap tangle that forced him pitside along with Hunter Schuerenberg.
Stenhouse, Shuman, Brady Short and Caleb Armstrong all doubled up with heat race and qualifying race wins, with other heat races topped by P.J. Gargiulo, Buckwalter, Kellen Conover, Taylor and K. Swindell.
After a cut left rear tire derailed an apparent heat race victory drive, Danny Stratton won the first "C" Main before once again becoming an early casualty in the "B" Main won by K. Swindell.
Davey Ray held down a transfer position in the first "B" Main until a battery came off his mount and he lost power on the white flag lap.
After drawing the pole position for the Chili Bowl Race of Champions, Sammy Swindell gunned into the lead at the outset and held a commanding lead much of the way. It took a late caution after Steve Buckwalter's turn two flip to give his chasers hope.
Tim McCreadie briefly slid in front of Swindell to lead lap 17, but Swindell charged back by and paced the final three circuits to score the win in front of Dave Darland, McCreadie, Jay Drake and J.J. Yeley.
There were thirteen flips over the course of the night, with a Doug McCune-Chris Zrinski double tumble exiting turn four in the night's first "C" Main the most spectacular as Zrinski put the fence repair crew to work in short order. There were no injuries.