By: Staff Report NASCAR.com January 16, 2022 at 1:31 AM
Chili Bowl 2022: Tanner Thorson holds off Christopher Bell in closing laps for win
Christopher Bell’s shot at four will have to wait another year.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who doubles as a top-shelf dirt racer, lost the lead late in the Chili Bowl Nationals to Tanner Thorson, who powered to his first win in one of the most prestigious races in the country on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It’s the first Chili Bowl victory for Thorson, an ace driver who previously competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Bell was going for his fourth win in the dirt Midget race held in his home state Oklahoma. Only two drivers have won this event at least four times: Sammy Swindell is the all-time leader with five wins, and Kevin Swindell has four.
Bell started Saturday night’s A-Main from the pole position and led the opening 36 laps of the 55-lap event. He lost the lead to Thorson following a caution, but appeared to be in position to pass for the lead — and perhaps win — with six laps to go. A flip by Brady Bacon brought out the caution, though, and Thorson maintained the lead. Bell would finish second, with Rico Abreu, Michael “Buddy” Kofoid and Tanner Carrick completing the top five.
Thorson’s win broke a two-year winning streak by Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champ. Larson finished sixth and was one of three Cup Series regulars in the top 10.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a Chili Bowl for the ages and finished Saturday night ninth. His week included a photo finish heat-race victory over former Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne on Friday, followed later with a runner-up finish in the night’s A-Main race. Larson was seeking to become just the third driver to win three in a row.
The Chili Bowl is an annual dirt Midget race that has been held since 1987 and always draws interest from some of auto racing’s most talented drivers. Preliminary heat races began Monday and lasted through Saturday.
Larson, Bell and Stenhouse Jr. were among the 10 drivers locked into the A-Main heading into Saturday, leaving more than 300 drivers competing for the final 14 spots.
Those that had not yet qualified for the main event spent the entirety of Saturday attempting to qualify through a prolonged series of races known as “Alphabet Soup” as drivers who had not previously qualified for the championship race had to drive their way in through a series of transfers, starting with two P-Feature races. The top six finishers advanced upward to the corresponding O-Feature races, in which there were already several drivers who had qualified based on their performance earlier in the week. Then the top six finishers from each O-Feature race advanced into the N-Feature races, where other drivers were also waiting and so on.