This week the annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals will take place down in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Saturday will mark the 34th time the prestigious race has taken place in the Expo Center.
Here’s what to watch for this week’s events.
Keith Kunz Motorsports Looking For 6th Straight Win With Vastly New Lineup
There’s no question about it, Keith Kunz Motorsports is the top dog in this event. One of their drivers has won this race in each of the last five years. But, this year could be different for KKM.
Normally, they show up with the best drivers in the best equipment. They’ve rolled out lineups for Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu and others. Now, Bell and Larson have each departed and Abreu is the veteran among a very young group.
Abreu is a two-time winner (2015, 2016) while Bell has won in each of the last three years. The team did hire young teenage phenom Zeb Wise to race for them in this race and some other select USAC Midget events as Wise is certainly going to be a factor this week and weekend.
They’ll be joined by Tucker Klaasmeyer, Michael Kofoid, Holley Hollan, Presley Truedson, Tom Harris and Cannon McIntosh.
Other than Abreu and Wise, the others are newcomers and drivers trying to make a name for themselves. Can they do so with good equipment in the A-Main and get KKM their sixth straight win?
Will A New Team Find Victory? Plenty Of Movement In Offseason Ride Swaps
Since 2009, the Chili Bowl has been dominated by only a couple of teams. Will the new decade tip the scales to someone else?
Keith Kunz Motorsports has won five in-a-row. Rusty Kunz won in 2014 with Bryan Clauson. The Swindell’s then won five straight prior to that. Combine that, between the Kunz’ and Swindell’s, they’ve won 11 consecutive Chili Bowl’s dating back to 2009.
But, there’s a lot of new for these team and some offseason driver lineup movement could have tipped a changing of the guard.
KKM lost Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and Logan Seavey during the offseason. They retained Rico Abreu and signed teenage star Zeb Wise, but they also bring six very young drivers with them.
Swindell will have Sammy Swindell back — the all-time winningest driver in this 34 year old event’s history. They also signed Seavey too as he’s going to be one to watch.
The problem for them is, Larson started his own team and is thriving in it. He finished runner-up last year and has three top seven finishes in his last four Chili Bowl tries. Bell, joined an up and coming Tucker Boat Racing team that features himself, Dillon Welch, Chris Windom (former USAC Sprint Car and Silver Crown Champion), Andrew Layser (2019 Midget Rookie of the Year) and Aaron Reutzel. This is a very talented lineup that could take some glory from KKM.
Also could Clauson Marshall Racing. While they lost Wise and Windom, they do have defending Midget Champion Tyler Courtney. They also signed up and comer Cole Bodine. Plus, they will feature Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as part of their lineup as well.
Clauson-Marshall and Tucker-Boat could be threats to KKM and Swindell this weekend.
Bell Going For 4th Straight Win, Trying To Tie Kevin Swindell For 2nd On All-Time Wins List
Christopher Bell enters this week on a three-peat streak. He first won his home state race in 2017. He won it again in 2018. Then he triumphed in 2019. Can he win a fourth straight? If he would do so, he’d become the second driver to ever win four in-a-row in the Chili Bowl joining Kevin Swindell (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013). He’d also join Swindell for second place on the all-time wins list, trailing only Kevin’s dad Sammy Swindell (5) for most ever and that’s if Sammy doesn’t win himself on Saturday as he’s among the entries for this year’s event too.
Bell, would also be doing so for a new team. He joined Tucker Boat Racing in the offseason and will race the No. 84X. This organization is on the rise, but has never won the Chili Bowl before.
Bell though, has had a ton of success on the indoor dirt track. He’s not only won three times, but he has four top three finishes in six tries in the A-Main.
This past New Years Day, Clauson-Marshall Racing announced their 2020 Chili Bowl USAC Midget lineup for this weeks race. Two very familiar drivers will be a part of their multi team stable with both Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. being a part of it.
Newman, ran an indoor dirt race in St. Louis last month and will be hoping to make his first ever Chili Bowl A-Main with one of USAC’s top Midget teams in a couple of weeks now too. Stenhouse, will return to the team again, looking for his first Golden Driller as well as his first top five finish. He’s made six starts in the main feature with a best finish of ninth.
Newman and Stenhouse were teammates with Roush/Fenway Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series for 2019, for their lone season under the same umbrella. Stenhouse, was let out of his contract early for 2020 and was replaced by Chris Buescher. That led Stenhouse to JTG-Daugherty Racing in the No. 47 Chevrolet for the upcoming season.
But, as always, the Chili Bowl entry list is NASCAR heavy. Right now, 14 drivers on it have NASCAR ties, including Newman and Stenhouse.
Kyle Larson is back with his own team as he was runner-up in last year’s event with Keith Kunz Motorsports. He has three top seven finishes in his last four Chili Bowl A-Main’s. Christopher Bell is back too but with a different team as well. All of Bell’s previous six starts came with KKM, as he will look to tie Kevin Swindell for second on the all-time wins list in a couple of weeks. Bell, has won in each of the last three years and has four top three finishes in six tries.
Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Ellis and JJ Yeley are current Cup or XFINITY Series that will be in Tulsa as well. So will Dale Earnhardt Jr’s niece in Karsyn Elledge and Dave Blaney’s son-in-law Cale Conley. Former Kyle Busch Motorsports/Toyota developmental driver Logan Seavey will race for Swindell.
NBC Sports commentator Dillon Welch will join Bell with Tucker-Boat Racing.
INDYCAR Ties Too
USAC racing used to feature drivers who would later become IndyCar legends. But, the tide has since changed as the path to NASCAR has since began in USAC. Drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, JJ Yeley, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and several others started their racing careers in USAC.
Now, the IndyCar route is coming back but in reverse order.
Current IndyCar drivers are trying out dirt. Conor Daly sparked the new revolution as he did so in the BC 39 in 2018 and 2019 as well as the Chili Bowl last year. He’s back again this week. So is James Davison and Santino Ferrucci who with help from Byrd Racing will make their rookie debuts in Tulsa this week.
While we don’t expect any of these trio to make the A-Main, it’s still big for the publicity for IndyCar and themselves to make this effort and branch out for something new.