Larson Hustles to Long-Awaited Chili Bowl Victory, Ending Bell’s Three-Year Streak
“I’m sorry, NASCAR, I’m sorry, Daytona, but this is the biggest effing race I’ve ever won,” said Larson on Saturday night.
For NASCAR Cup veteran and expert dirt racer Kyle Larson, the annual Chili Bowl event held in Tulsa, Oklahoma is sacred. Not only that but to this point, it's also retained an elusive air that has unexplainably kept the Californian out of victory lane despite 12 prior attempts at winning the coveted A-Main feature. That ended Saturday night, however, as Larson was able to overtake his ever-present rival Christopher Bell to win his first Golden Driller trophy.
Larson has been outwardly passionate about winning the Chili Bowl and in a post-race interview, he told the crowd, "I'm sorry, NASCAR, I’m sorry, Daytona, but this is the biggest effing race I’ve ever won. I hope to win Daytona in a few weeks, but this is badass!"
After a string of years in which Larson was not only competitive but also challenging for overall Ws, 2019 was maybe the most gut-wrenching. He was passed on lap 54 of the 55 lap finale by none other than Bell, who would go on to claim his third consecutive Chili Bowl title. This helped pen the storyline of what was to come, and come time for the race's 2020 edition, both drivers had split from Keith Kunz Motorsport—a midget racing powerhouse—to gun for glory once more.
Bell had joined best friend and team owner Chad Boat, bringing with him his Toyota Racing Development poster-boy status. Larson, meanwhile, expanded his sprint car program to run a TRD-powered midget in this year's event under the Kyle Larson Motorsport banner with crew chief Paul Silva. This, as it seems, was the necessary step toward breaking a chain of infamously tough losses for the 27-year-old.
A sharp move on Bell, who started in the outside pole position, landed Larson the lead on lap 37. He would proceed to build a handful of sizable gaps to second between cautions, dancing in and out of the 24-car field packed tight into the one-fifth-mile bullring.
A restart with 10 laps to go was Bell's final chance to catch Larson, but even his best attempts couldn't usurp his competitor. Bell slapped the turn-four wall in what looked to be a desperation move, hoping to become the first four-time consecutive Chili Bowl winner since Kevin Swindell.
"I can’t believe it," Larson said. "It’s taken me 13 years. That’s almost half my age. I’ve been coming here for 13 years, and it feels better than I can imagine."
"I think we were all nervous to see Chris get the lead from the outside lane and then check out like he did," he added. "I was doing all I could to keep up with him through traffic, and felt like I was doing a good job. We had that one restart, and I stayed close to him and actually made a couple of runs on him (in corner) exit, so I knew that was going to be important for me to be able to slide him."
"I wanted to get by him quick, because once he figures some things out, he's the best. Thankfully, I got by him quick and then tried not to make too many mistakes there, but I was getting sloppy at the end as my nerves were kicking in. I had nightmares running through my head again, but it was great to finally win in my own car, especially my first time out here in the Chili Bowl. It's just crazy."
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