TULSA, Okla. — They say all good things eventually come to an end, and that was indeed the case on Friday night at the River Spirit Expo Center, as Clauson-Marshall Racing’s Justin Grant snapped Keith Kunz’s stranglehold on victory lane.
Kunz, whose cars had swept the first three preliminary features of the 32nd annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals at the hands of Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu and Christopher Bell, could only watch on Vacuworx Night as Grant managed his race to perfection after staring from the outside pole.
The NOS Energy Drink No. 39BC settled into a top-three running position early on, but came to life late in the going, as Grant hauled around the outside of then-leader Damion Gardner coming off turn two with nine to go and never looked back.
Grant pulled away down the stretch to a 1.121 second victory over Kunz/Curb-Agajanian pilot and defending USAC National Midget Series champion Spencer Bayston, marking the second-straight year that he has won the Friday preliminary in Tulsa.
“(Last year) we won rolling the bottom, and that’s not really my deal,” Grant said. “I knew the bottom would slow down, and it was getting pretty thin there (in the closing stages), so I figured I could bail out to the top and make up some ground on him (Gardner).”
“The way I look at it is this: I got to come back and bang the fence, and I had a blast doing it. These CMR guys gave me a great NOS Energy Drink midget, and it was an absolute thrill to drive.”
Grant was so excited that his second-career victory celebration on a Chili Bowl preliminary night came with some added flair: victory donuts on the frontstretch in front of a roaring crowd.
“I’m not normally a donut guy, but last year I was so tired … and my wife had babies and no sleep when I came down here, so (I said) if I ever got to come back up on this stage, I was going to do donuts. I had to get ’em out of the way.”
After earning the most combined passing points between heat races and the A-Qualifiers, Tuesday’s Vacuworx Race of Champions winner Chad Boat led the field to the green flag from the pole, jumping out to the early lead and pacing the first four laps before Gardner came calling on the inside berm.
Gardner dispatched Grant for the runner-up spot on the fourth round and then flashed past Boat for the lead on lap five, quickly opening up a seven car length lead as Boat slowly began to fade into Grant’s clutches.
A caution with 13 laps complete for Nick Knepper’s stalled car in turn two led to the first of two restarts on the night, seeing Grant seize the runner-up position on the restart and move into position to challenge Gardner for the top spot.
The restart at halfway also saw NASCAR Cup Series star Kasey Kahne move into potential position to transfer, as he took over third place, while Boat quickly free-fell to sixth before the second and final caution flag of the race flew with 10 to go.
That yellow saw 2017 Chili Bowl runner-up Daryn Pittman flip in turn one and collect David Budres, while Thomas Meseraull and fourth-running Tucker Klaasmeyer made contact in the third corner that took both of them out of contention for any sort of solid finishes as well.
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