From T.J. Buffenbarger
(January 10, 2021) — The 36th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire starts bright and early Monday at the Tulsa Expo Raceway with the entire field participating in practice before Monday night’s preliminary event. As this post was being proofread late on Sunday the entry list was just shy of 400 entries for the six-day event.
Every year I try to offer my opinion on favorites to lock into Saturday’s finale, drivers that wouldn’t surprise me if they earned a locked in position, and some potential dark horses. With the increase in entries this becomes more difficult every year due to the increase in talent participating and some of the crazy things that can happen with the large number of entries and their wide range of experience.
With that here are the drivers I consider favorites to lock into the Saturday night finale through Monday’s preliminary program. I only have two favored picks for Monday’s program. I just didn’t have strong feelings about the Monday’s program about who would lock in outside of these two drivers:
• Cannon McIntosh was the fourth-place finisher in the 2021 edition of the Chili Bowl Nationals and has won his preliminary feature the past two years. Racing in front of a home crowd is never easy, but McIntosh seems to relish contesting one of the biggest events in auto racing near his hometown of Bixby, Oklahoma. McIntosh is in prime position to capture his third preliminary feature victory in a row on Monday.
• David Gravel has finished in the top 10 on his Chili Bowl preliminary night the past three years, but has not made the Saturday finale since, but has only made the finale in 2019 finishing in 18th place. Gravel is driving for the formidable RMS midget team with Rusty Kunz turning the wrenches. This combination combined with performances in recent years at the Chili Bowl makes Gravel one my top picks to make the main on Saturday.
With 72 teams slated to take the green flag on Monday there are several other drivers to keep an eye on that wouldn’t surprise me if they were able to capture one of the two positions to lock into Saturday’s finale.
• Chase Briscoe’s starts in open wheel cars are infrequent as his stock car career has progressed. Briscoe finished 9th in the B-Main in Saturday’s finale last year. Briscoe has not been in the finale since 2017, but seems to always be in the hunt.
• Gavin Boschele would not have been able to compete in the Chili Bowl Nationals in past years due to his age. Monday will see the 13 year old teenage sensation and POWRi Midget Car feature winner take a step onto one of the biggest stages in motorsports. Boschele hasn’t faltered in his progression to date, and I would expect for him to capture people’s attention at the Chili Bowl.
• Nick Hoffman has shown recently that he is not just a standout in the modified division. With high profile performances in late models and midget cars recently. Hoffman made it up to the E-Main in 2021, but I expect a better performance in 2022.
Other noteworthy entries on Monday
• Chase Elliott returns to better his seventh-place finish in the second F-Main in 2021 at the Tulsa Expo Raceway. This year Elliott will be driving an entry owned by his NASCAR teammate Kyle Larson.
• Elliott is joined by his NASCAR teammate at Hedrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman, during Monday’s preliminary night. Bowman will take the wheel this year along with fielding two other entries later in the week.
• Former winner Johnny Heydenrich returns for another Chili Bowl Nationals along with veteran driver Jerry Coons Jr. Coons appears to have good equipment lined up for this edition of the Chili Bowl driving a Spike Chassis with Stanton SR-11x power.
• For our local audience, Taylor Ferns returns to the dirt for the first time in several years at the Chili Bowl Nationals driving for Bob East. Ferns won a non-wing sprint car feature in 2021 at Berlin Raceway.
• Kevin Rudeen, owner of Rudeen Racing and partners in other racing entities, will shift from owner to driver during Monday’s program driving one of his team’s entries.
• Sprint Car fans in New South Wales continue to wait on their sparkling new dirt track facility funded by the government, Eastern Creek Speedway, as construction delays related to COVID-19 Protocols have forced the cancellation of the grand opening scheduled for January 14-15.
Thankfully Archerfield Speedway has stepped up to host a two-day event next weekend for the winged 410 Sprint Cars.
Hopefully construction can be wrapped up soon so fans in New South Wales, who have been extremely patient waiting for a new home track since the closing of Parramatta City Raceway to make way for a new railway infrastructure.
• 2022 could be a landmark year for growth in the winged 410 sprint car division.
Over the past couple of weeks schedules have been released that show an increased presence in the Northwest at multiple facilities including the Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway along with the new POWRi Winged 410 Sprint Car Series that will co-sanction several events with the World of Outlaws and All Star Circuit of Champions along with some stand alone events in the heart of 360 sprint car country.
In my mind these moves are long term plays and hopefully promoters find value and success in these events because I don’t think large fields at these races will happen overnight. In recent years where new tracks and series with staying power have been far and few between, hopefully these new 410 events will create roots for future growth for the division.
• Look for the first draft of the Allstar Performance Open Wheel Calendar to be published Monday night. The Calendar is running slightly behind due to some commitments to my day job, but I am just about done with the first run through out series and track list to post the entire calendar.