TULSA, Okla. – Kyle Larson didn’t miss the fact that he was the only driver at Monday’s pre-Chili Bowl press conference not to have won a Golden Driller.
And considering he was seated between defending champion Christopher Bell and two-time winner Tony Stewart, with Rico Abreu to his far right, it’s easy to see why.
None of them let him forget it throughout the half-hour session, nor did event co-founder and promoter Emmett Hahn.
“He’s too conservative!” Hahn joked. “He gets out there and he just wants to putt around on the bottom!”
Stewart jokingly held Larson back as Larson faked a move to get up from his chair and jump over the table when asked about his lack of a Saturday night championship A-Feature victory.
“What was that quote I gave a long time ago?” Larson mused to Hahn. “I oughta jump over the table and break the legs off…”
As laughter erupted from around the room, Larson cracked a smile before responding in seriousness.
“Trust me, I recognized as soon as I sat down that I was the only one that hadn’t won this deal,” he said. “I think it’s mostly, probably, me overdriving … and then a little bit of bad luck as well. Last year, the flagman kinda got me in the C-Main … hopefully they’ve fixed that this year!” he directed at Hahn.
“I hope this year is our year, though. I’m still young enough that I’ll be racing at the Chili Bowl for a long time and hopefully I’ll have plenty of opportunities to win it, but I want to get it bad. I want this year to be the year.”
– To his credit, Stewart showcased plenty of emotion as well during Monday’s presser, grinning from ear to ear after already having put in work on the quarter-mile track prior to practice kicking off.
As he starts his third year working the tractor and helping to keep Tulsa Expo Raceway in tip-top shape, Stewart reflected on how special both the venue and his latest gig during Chili Bowl week are to him.
“There’s just something about this place,” said Stewart. “It doesn’t matter to me whether I’m racing with these guys (Bell, Abreu and Larson) or whether I’m putting in responsibility for six days preparing the track for them … I put just as much energy into working as I do racing here.”
“The best part for me is that each night after the races, there’s competitors that didn’t race that night and drivers that did run … and they come down and talk about how they liked the track that night. To do it for this many cars, it’s a lot of work, but it’s fun and I enjoy it.”
It’s a personal sense of accomplishment for Stewart, as a matter of fact.
“I’m proud every year when I leave here. It’s important because the integrity of this race is important,” he explained. “This is my favorite week of the year. … I’m about as sad on Saturday night when it’s all over as I am the entire season because it means we have to wait 51 weeks before it happens again.”
– As of the start of Monday’s practice session, the final count for entries was a grand total of 357, down ever so slightly from last year’s event record of 365.
Among this year’s field are drivers hailing from 39 U.S. states, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.
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