January 19, 2014 — Report by Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — MAVTV photo — TULSA, OK — Long live the new king!
And the city folk were more than happy about it.
Race fans in the Tulsa Expo Center Saturday night witnessed the end of a five-year era in the history of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl midget nationals, as a Swindell failed to win the legendary A-main for the first time in a half-decade. Instead, it was Bryan Clauson, out of Noblesville, Indiana, who held off a furiously charging Kevin Swindell over the final 15 laps to claim his first-career Golden Driller in his fifth A-main appearance in the championship feature.
Clauson took the lead at Lap 5 from polesitter Caleb Armstrong and never relinquished the top sport the rest of the way, holding off a determined Christopher Bell for the better part of 30 laps before Bell ceded way to Swindell after the two made contact in the final five circuits.
Swindell gave chase from there, but could not catch the Hoosier at the finish.
“It’s unbelievable,” a breathless Clauson said in Victory Lane while trying to absorb the magnitude of his accomplishment. “I can’t even put it into words right now.”
“I honestly thought we had gotten to the lead too soon, to be honest. Once we got there the last 45 laps or so felt like they took ages. But here we are, and they can never take my name off the Golden Driller now!”
A frustrated Kevin Swindell spoke after the race about his run of four-straight Chili Bowl titles finally coming to an end. The 24-year-old had a flat tire during his qualifying night and had to race his way in through one of the B-mains. His performance from fourteenth made him the Excel Therapy Hard Charger of the Week, gaining 49 spots over the course of the Chili Bowl.
“It’s upsetting,” the Tennessean said simply after coming up one spot short. “It feels like I didn’t get a fair shot at it really, because we were so far behind the 8-ball from the beginning (because of what happened in the heat race). But I guess it was gonna have to end sometime.”
Behind Clauson, Swindell and the 18-year-old Bell, Alex Bright finished in the fourth spot in his first-career A-main appearance with the People’s Champion, Dave Darland, completing the top five.
Meeting face-to-face with Keith Kunz in the infield following the finish and his contact with Kunz’s driver, Christopher Bell, Swindell commented on the confrontation in the post-race press conference.
“It was nothing that bad. I think all the people, aside from me and Christopher made it a bigger deal than what it really was. I was just a little frustrated.”
Bell shared a similar sentiment after posting his best career Chili Bowl finish.
“Everyone knew Kevin was a little frustrated with me. There after the checkered, we were kind of swerving at each other. I didn’t know how frustrated he was with me but the people, like he said, made it a bigger deal.”
The feature itself was an exciting show throughout the night. After the Clauson lead change at Lap 5, chaos broke loose throughout the field, with eight cautions slowing the 55-lap feature. Thomas Meseraull was the first casualty at Lap 12, with his engine grenading into a ball of fire in Turn 4. On the ensuing restart, the field couldn’t complete another lap before the “Demon” Damion Gardner flipped in Turn 2 and nearly caught a piece of the catchfence. Gardner walked away uninjured from the incident.
Once the green flew again, the field spread out and Kevin Swindell began to work his way through the field while his father Sammy dueled with the Keith Kunz-owned machine of Kyle Larson. The two eventually made contact that forced Slammin’ Sammy through the infield and put the 5-time Chili Bowl champion a lap down when the caution flew at Lap 29 for the stopped car of Jerry Coons, Jr. and fluid from Larson’s engine, which finally gave up the ghost.
Coons made a piece of Chili Bowl history of his own on Saturday night, setting a record by starting his 11th consecutive Chili Bowl A-main.
Larson had been looking for redemption after spinning in last year’s Chili Bowl A-main while running second to Kevin Swindell.
“It hurts,” Larson said of the emotion behind missing out on a chance at the Golden Driller for two straight years. “Just lost an engine. We really needed to catch some cautions there and never got them, and then we finally made some contact with Sammy and it bent the Jacob’s Ladder, and from there, you saw the rest.”
Three additional flips collected the Danny Stratton, Michael Pickens, and Coons cars, with a fourth aerial incident at the checkered flag collecting the Derek Ramey machine just before the start-finish line.
Rico Abreu and polesitter Caleb Armstrong, who both ran in the top five for most of the A-main, spun in the latter half of the feature and were relegated to 11th and 19th, respectively.
Kasey Kahne, who was racing a tribute midget to honor the late Jason Leffler and raise money for Jason’s son Charlie Dean, was unable to make it through the alphabet soup, finishing 10th in one of the two F-mains on Saturday afternoon.
This year’s Chili Bowl saw the record for driver attendance tied at 281 after first being set in 2009. Saturday’s alphabet soup saw the longest streak of advances set at three with Brent Beauchamp, J.J. Yeley, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Seth Motsinger each advancing through three feature events.
The 2014 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year came down to the B-Features. Parker Price-Miller, who finished eleventh in the second B-Feature, earned the prestigious honor over Tanner Thorson, who ended the night fourteenth in the first B-Feature.
The 29th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire is scheduled to take place January 13-17, 2015. Ticket information will be posted to http://www.chilibowl.com as soon as the information is available.
RESULTS: 28th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals
A Feature (55 Laps)
1. 63-Bryan Clauson 2. 39-Kevin Swindell 3. 97-Christopher Bell 4. 77-Alex Bright 5. 17R-Dave Darland 6. 47X-Tim McCreadie 7. 21-Daryn Pittman 8. 8J-Jonathan Beason 9. 3-Chris Windom 10. 15X-Chad Boat 11. 67K-Rico Abreu 12. 24-Tracy Hines 13. 5D-Zach Daum 14. 1-Sammy Swindell 15. 05-Brad Loyet 16. (DNF) 7M-Kevin Ramey 17. (DNF) 17K-Alex Schutte 18. (DNF) 5-Jerry Coons Jr 19. (DNF) 7C-Caleb Armstrong 20. (DNF) 63NZ-Michael Pickens 21. (DNF) 56L-Danny Stratton 22. (DNF) 71K-Kyle Larson 23. (DNF) 47-Damion Gardner 24. (DNF) 16-Thomas Meseraull