TULSA, Okla. – Christopher Bell put the Oklahoma curse to bed Saturday night during the finale of the 31st annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, dominating the second half of the 55-lap championship A-Feature to score his long-awaited first Golden Driller.
Bell blew by polesitter and first-half leader Justin Grant for the top spot on lap 26, pulling away amid three cautions in the final 15 laps en route to parking his No. 71W DC Solar Bullet-Toyota on the frontstretch in victory lane.
The win is the first by a Sooner State native since Andy Hillenburg’s 1994 win, which coincidentally also came in a Keith Kunz prepared car.
“This has been my whole life coming and it’s a dream come true,” an emotional Bell exclaimed in victory lane. “I’ve been coming here for so long … and I remember coming into this building and just sitting in those stands watching this race. It just means the world to me.”
“I’ve had so many opportunities at this place to get it done and I’ve never been able to do it … so for me to be able to win here is pretty awesome.”
Bell circled the timing of the caution flags that flew during the A-Feature as one of his keys to victory.
“(The cautions) were huge because I never had to deal with any traffic all race long. Every time I’ve come to this race, I’ve just attacked, attacked, attacked and it’s never worked out. This year, it didn’t have to be that way. I just ran hard enough to stay in position but not get into trouble. I was able to watch the big screen and gauge how far back those guys were. I knew Pittman was coming on me … he was really fast, but I just made sure to hit my marks.”
“Like I said, this was such a long time coming. Oh my God, I won the Chili Bowl! I really can’t believe it.”
Clauson-Marshall Racing’s Justin Grant stormed to the lead from the pole, heading the opening laps over Bell and the rest of the field before the night’s first caution flew with four laps complete. A flipping Gary Taylor slowed the pace in turn three, but following a short cleanup period the race resumed at full pace.
On the restart, Grant pulled out to a three car-length advantage over Bell, with Tyler Courtney and Jake Swanson in tow as the frontrunners began to settle themselves out.
That meant a long green flag run, with Grant opening up a full second’s lead before a four-car crash on lap 14 collected defending Chili Bowl champion Rico Abreu, B-Feature transfers Justin Peck and Thomas Meseraull, as well as Chase Briscoe, who went flipping in turn two amid the carnage.
Going green again, Grant made the same trick work twice as he opened up a half-second lead again over Bell by the time the third caution flew on lap 20, when Tyler Thomas went spinning on corner entry after help from Michael Faccinto.
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