TULSA, OK – Kyle Larson added yet another notch to his sterling midget résumé with his third-straight victory on Warren CAT Qualifying Night Tuesday during the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Larson led from wire to wire in the 30-lapper, notching his sixth career Chili Bowl preliminary win while fending off a spirited run by Jonathan Beason in the closing third of the feature.
The Elk Grove, Calif., native and NASCAR Cup Series star was admittedly nervous after drawing the No. 2 pill to start the night – putting him on the pole of his heat race – but Larson pushed through all night.
He won that heat, then followed up by winning his qualifier to earn the outside pole for the main event.
Once the green flag waved, there was no stopping Larson’s No. 01 iRacing.com/Lucas Oil King-Toyota, which carved through traffic effortlessly and took the checkered flag in front by 2.822 seconds.
Though the main itself was caution-laden, featuring eight yellows throughout the 30-lap distance, Larson never faltered on his way to victory lane and a guaranteed spot in Saturday’s championship feature.
It was his eighth win in 10 races with his self-owned midget program, coming right on the heels of a fourth-place finish in the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions from earlier in the night.
“I was a little nervous after drawing such an early pill and starting on the pole of a heat race,” said Larson in victory lane. “We were able to not have as much passing in the qualifiers, though, and it lined me up on the front row. We were able to get the jump at the start and I felt like I mostly made good decisions. I got kind of sloppy on one restart, but for the most part I felt like my car was good and we ran some fast laps.”
Tuesday night’s win locked Larson into his ninth championship A-main since 2010, setting him up to once again chase his first Golden Driller come Saturday night at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
But despite the ease with which Larson made his run appear, his golden ticket wasn’t completely assured until the final moments, due to all the cautions creating some fuel concerns for the top two.
“I think Jonathan (Beason) and I both were running out of fuel there at the end,” Larson noted. “Mine was stumbling a lot the last five laps, so I was thankful that we didn’t have another caution. If we had, I don’t know if I could have made it.”
Beason’s runner-up preliminary night result was his second in the last three Chili Bowls, both securing his place in the grand finale and allowing him to breathe a huge sigh of relief after the event.
“This run tonight makes the rest of our week so much easier,” Beason said. “It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to say that after a preliminary night. I don’t think it’s set in just yet, but it’s a good night for us, for sure. I would have liked to have gotten going at the beginning, but Kyle just schooled us on those starts and restarts. Thankfully we finally got into a groove, though, and closed on him a bit.
“We got to lap traffic toward the end, and he just got through it better than I could and got away from us there,” Beason added. “When the motor started stumbling, it became ill to drive for what I needed, and we just had to hang on as best we could.”
From eighth, Michael Faccinto survived early contact with Alex Bright to race his way onto the podium in third, with Dillon Welch coming from 16th to fourth and Larry Wight completing the top five.
California travelers T.J. Smith and Mitchel Moles were sixth and seventh, respectively, followed by Derek Hagar, Kaidon Brown and NASCAR Cup Series regular Alex Bowman.
Pre-race favorite Zeb Wise, making his debut with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, was running inside the top five when he made contact with Wight on lap 13 and slowed with a cut left-rear tire.
Wise went to the work area but was trapped when his crew couldn’t complete the tire change in time for the restart, relegating him to 23rd in the final rundown and a D-main on Saturday night.