TULSA, Okla. – In the first year of a new winner’s payout to honor the late Bryan Clauson, one of the former Chili Bowl champion’s closest friends and greatest rivals took home the $6,363.63 check for winning Tuesday night’s Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions.
After pulling the pole position in the blind pill draw earlier in the night, former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson led the ninth running of the all-star invitational from wire to wire, picking up his second-career VIROC win.
Larson’s other VIROC score came three years ago, during the event’s sixth edition in 2014.
“This is so cool to win the Race of Champions in honor of Bryan,” Larson said from victory lane. “The track was fun, though. It was really, really good and I was happy with it over the 20 laps there.”
“I had a good time. He (Rico) was beating on my back bumper, there during the first caution before the restart and was trying to get in my head a little bit, but I just stayed smooth. It was a lot of fun. Winning this race again … I hope they keep ‘em coming.”
Larson and Abreu started from the front row, running nearly side-by-side for the first two laps of the race before Larson fully established command from the third circuit on.
From then on It looked to be no contest, as Larson drove off by a half-straightaway at halfway and – despite entering traffic with eight laps to go – wasn’t challenged again until a pair of cautions with two laps to go set up a barn-burning sprint to the finish.
The first caution flew for a spin by former Chili Bowl champion John Heydenreich, and on the restart, Abreu stumbled after he climbed the cushion on the restart. However, the two-time defending Chili Bowl champion was afforded one final chance after J.J. Yeley stalled on-track to bring out the second and final caution of the event.
Abreu could do nothing to stop Larson in the end, but both were lauded by their team owner Keith Kunz after the event for the speed he continued to show inside the Expo Center.
“Having four cars in that race is a big help for us,” Kunz explained on the Racinboys.com event telecast. “It allows us to get good info about the track … and they all have speed. Rico and Kyle have been good all week so far … they’ve had speed every time they’ve been on the track and they’ve been right there.
Dave Darland came home third, followed by Tim McCreadie and Thomas Meseraull.
Christopher Bell put on a spirited drive in a third Keith Kunz Motorsports entry, powering from the inside of the final row in 19th to finish sixth.
Eight-time World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz was challenging for a podium position throughout the race after starting eighth, but ran into trouble on the final restart and finished 19th.
Fast Lane Racing Apparel’s Kim Stewart, whose daughter Lauren was engaged to Clauson, also announced after the conclusion of VIROC IX that the $6,363.63 VIROC winner’s share will become a permanent and continuing tribute to the 2014 Chili Bowl winner.
“It’s an honor to be able to give the $6,363.63 to Kyle,” said Stewart. “They were great competitors on the track, but really great friends off of it. I’m glad we could give back to the racing community in honor of Bryan … along with Doug Harris from HE&M Saw, and we’re going to make it an annual (tradition) here at the Chili Bowl.”
RESULTS: Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions IX; Tulsa Expo Raceway; Jan. 10, 2017
VIROC IX (20 Laps): 1. 71K-Kyle Larson; 2. 97-Rico Abreu; 3. 6K-Dave Darland; 4. 47X-Tim McCreadie; 5. 1R-Thomas Meseraull; 6. 71-Christopher Bell; 7. 76M-Brady Bacon; 8. 84X-Chad Boat; 9. 21K-Cory Kruseman; 10. 21-Daryn Pittman; 11. 67-Tanner Thorson; 12. 5-Jerry Coons Jr; 13. 47-Danny Stratton; 14. 71G-Damion Gardner; 15. 24-Tracy Hines; 16. 1-Sammy Swindell; 17. 05-Brad Loyet; 18. 1ST-J.J. Yeley; 19. 15-Donny Schatz; 20. 22H-John Heydenreich
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Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
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