TULSA, Okla. — official event release — Patrick Grant photo —
With only a few feet to spare at the line, Pennsylvania’s Alex Bright held off Indiana’s Joey Saldana at the line to kick off the 30th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire during Tuesday’s Warren Cat Qualifying Night inside the River Spirit Center.
Marking the second time since 2014 that Bright has qualified for Saturday night’s feature, it was his first preliminary night victory.
“Absolutely amazing,” he said. “This possibly tops as one of the best wins of my career, if not it definitely ties the one big race in Australia I won, but Saturday would definitely top them all. This is big for me.”
Giving chase from the eighth starting spot, Bright cracked the top five by lap six as Kyle Larson took off with the lead. Sitting comfortably ahead of Jonathan Beason, the Oklahoma shoe worked to hold off Zach Daum, while at the same time Alex Bright quietly continued his march to the front.
Taking over third on lap nine, Bright jumped to second the following lap. In the right place at the right time, the caution flew on lap 11 as leader Kyle Larson found himself the victim of a slower car. Finding the No 22E stalled off the exit of the second turn, the resulting impact sent Larson spinning to a stop.
“It was unfortunate he [Kyle] got caught up in a wreck,” said Bright. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that’s racing. We’ve all been in that position.”
“I don’t think that’s all he had,” continued Bright. “It would’ve been interesting to see what would have happened. I think we definitely had something for him.”
Jonathan Beason sneaked between the wall and Daum’s No. 5D in a battle that also included Spencer Bayston. The race was slowed again on lap 21.
Going for a slide job on the restart, Beason slammed the cushion in turn four, causing a domino effect that brought Bayston to a halt. Beason continued, but struggled again on the next restart, allowing Saldana to grab second.
Working every angle possible during the closing laps, Bright edged Saldana by 0.144 seconds at the line.
“I don’t know how in the hell to drive these race cars, to tell you the truth. It’s just an honor to race a midget with these guys. Last year I finished fourth, so I missed it by one,” said Saldana. “Just putting yourself in the show, I’ve never done that before so for me it’s a huge honor to say I get to race the A Main on Saturday night.”
Zach Daum was the final transfer into Saturday’s 55-lap feature.
“There are eight or 10 crown jewel events for midget racing and this is at the top of the list so to be locked into it is big,” Daum said. “Less than eight percent of the drivers here will make the race. There is no other race in the world that tough to make. We work all year for the Chili Bowl, basically. We are always learning, always trying, and just trying to make our race car better.”
Beason settled for fourth with Arizona’s R.J. Johnson scoring Hard Charger honors; coming from 16th to round out the top-five.
Rebounding from the Lap 11 crash, Larson charged back to finish ninth.
RESULTS: 30th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals; Warren CAT Qualifying Night; River Spirit Expo Center; Jan. 12, 2016
A Feature (25 Laps): 1. 77B-Alex Bright; 2. 17-Joey Saldana; 3. 5D-Zach Daum; 4. 8J-Jonathan Beason; 5. 51J-R.J. Johnson; 6. 57B-Chad Boespflug; 7. 35M-Matt Sherrell; 8. 11A-Andrew Felker; 9. 71K-Kyle Larson; 10. 99P-Dillon Welch; 11. 14W-Matt Westfall; 12. 18-Tony Bruce Jr; 13. 17J-Chase Johnson; 14. 39S-Kevin Thomas Jr; 15. 39B-Spencer Bayston; 16. 78-Nick Wean; 17. 0S-Dylan Westbrook; 18. 55-Nick Knepper; 19. 0T-Tyler Brehm; 20. 1PW-Paul White; 21. (DNF) 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 22. (DNF) 7H-Darren Hagen; 23. (DNF) 22E-Cameron Hagin; 24. (DNF) 44X-Wesley Smith
Lap Leaders: Larson 1-11; Bright 12-25
Hard Charger: R.J. Johnson (+11)
CREDIT: Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals