TULSA, Okla. – Home state hero Christopher Bell put the Keith Kunz Motorsports curse to bed on Thursday night at the Tulsa Expo Center, scoring a dominating preliminary win on night three of the 31st annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Second-starting Bell, from nearby Norman, Oklahoma, stormed to the lead on lap three of the 25-lap John Christner Trucking Night A-Feature, passing polesitter Sam Hafertepe Jr. and never looking back en route to his third-career preliminary night victory.
The win locked the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular into Saturday’s 55-lap championship feature, making him the first KKM driver to do so after teammates Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu both ran into trouble on their preliminary nights.
“Our car was really good in the feature tonight,” Bell said. “I’ll be honest … it wasn’t that we struggled with it, but it just wasn’t what we needed it to be throughout the heat race and the qualifier. We did what we needed to do to get it better, though, and Keith and the guys put the tune-up on it for the feature. It was a really good night.”
“I’ve been in this position a couple of times now, and I’ve never been able to capitalize. I’m just going to try my hardest to make sure I don’t eliminate myself … and hopefully be there at the end.”
Despite the relief of being locked in, Bell says he has bigger aspirations on his shoulders.
“I’ve been coming to the Chili Bowl for a long time. Growing up in Oklahoma, this is the Daytona 500 for [local drivers]. I want nothing more than to win [on Saturday] and now I’ve got a good shot at doing that.”
Hafertepe started from the pole and led the opening two circuits, but was overhauled after Bell executed a flawless over-under crossover move in turns three and four. From there, it was lights out for the driver of the No. 71W DC Solar/Bullet-Toyota, while the battle was for the remaining transfer spots behind him.
A caution just after Bell’s pass for the lead, coming out due to the stalled car of Davey Ray, actually led to Hafertepe falling out of contention after he hit the frontstretch warning cone on the restart.
That earned the reigning ASCS national sprint car champion a black flag penalty, dropping him to the rear of the lead lap and eventually a lap down as Bell continued to blitz the field.
By halfway, the Sooner State hotshoe had a three-second lead with lapped cars between he and second-running Danny Stratton, but a caution with nine laps to go for Ryan Smith’s spinning car set up another restart.
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