T.J.’s Takeaways from the Opening Night of the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals

(l to r) Tyler Courtney, winner Cannon McIntosh, and third place Aaron Reutzel following Tuesday's preliminary feature at the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals. (Serena Dalhamer photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

With Cummins Qualifying night in the books at the 34th Chili Bowl Nationals here are a few takeaways from opening night:

• Not many young people could make their debut for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports at the biggest race of the year and pull off a sweep of a preliminary night. Cannon McIntosh did just that on Monday.

McIntosh came through on a big stage by winning his heat race, qualifier, and main event. It wasn’t easy with the repeated challenges from Tyler Courtney, but McIntosh was up to the challenge.

It was interesting hearing McIntosh thank his family owned team, Dave-Mac Motorsports (which is fielding several cars at the Chili Bowl this year), for getting him to this position as well. I’ve seen plenty of other kids from family owned teams move on to bigger and better things and not recognize the family effort that got them there. McIntosh seemed to go out of his way multiple times to get that point across.

• While McIntosh’s sweep was impressive Aaron Reutzel’s run from the back in 20 laps to third after losing the lead after being swept up in a crash was just as impressive. Retuzel may have checked out on the field had his not been caught by Dustin Golobic’s flipping car.

There were some feathers ruffled on his way to the front, Trey Marcham’s specifically on the colorful interview he gave the RacinBoys.com crew. Reutzel’s talent seems to grow with every race and now seems to stretch into whatever car he straps into. Throw in the “black hat” element (which I feel Reutzel should embrace) with Reutzel’s all business demeanor and aggressive driving style and he is exactly what our sport needs.

If there was any doubt how potent the Christopher Bell/Tucker-Boat combination could be at the Chili Bowl Reutzel’s performance should erase them. Reutzel credited Bell with advice that helped him take the lead early in the main event.

• One driver that outpaced my expectations going into Monday was Paul Nienhiser. Being a regular in victory lane in various sprint car tracks and series around Illinois Nienhiser has dabbled in midget car racing.

Pairing up with car owner Jim Neuman with some potent equipment Nienhiser was sniffing around the front of the pack all night just falling short of a top five finish. Nienhiser is solidly in a B-Main for Saturday’s finale and is another example of regional talent using the Chili Bowl to open some eyes on a National level.

• When making picks for the Chili Bowl Nationals there are always a lot of big names to choose from. At the end of the day its always smart to pick drivers that have regular success in the midget car division. Four of the top five drivers from Monday’s preliminary feature spend significant time behind the wheel of a midget.