Chili Bowl Nationals: Christopher Bell wins Thursday night qualifier
The lessons learned by Christopher Bell last season in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series paid off for him in Thursday night’s qualifier at the Chili Bowl Nationals.
Patience was key for the Norman, Oklahoma native who earned his third feature win in the last four years.
Bell started on the front row, took the lead from Sam Hafertepe Jr. on Lap 3 and held on for the final 22 circuits in the No. 71w Keith Kunz machine to lock into the A Main on Saturday at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
“That thing was really good tonight,” Bell said. “We worked hard to get it better and better all night long. Keith did an outstanding job — just like always.
“I’ve been in this position a couple of times and it’s never worked out but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it does on Saturday.”
Danny Stratton and C.J. Leary, who finished second and third, respectively, also advanced to the A Main in a race which was slowed by six cautions over 25 laps.
“We had a good run going last year and it kind of got caught short,” said Stratton, who tangled with Justin Allgaier in the qualifier last year. “Allgaier and talked to each other before the race because we started next to each other. He said we were ‘all good’ and that was helpful.
“Bell kind of got it strung out there at the beginning, but I think we were holding our own there at the end. So I think we have something for them on Saturday. We just have to get that pole and shuffle down to the front.”
Leary finished second in his qualifying race to advance to the A Feature. After starting seventh, the Greeenfield, Ind. native elected not to be greedy at the finish and maintain his transfer spot.
“Last year we came close to locking in and finished fourth,” Leary said. “Getting locked in is pretty special for me and this team. I was trying to get around Stratton, but I was thinking about the big picture. Last year I lost it on the last lap to get locked in. Just being here right now is an awesome feeling.”
Allgaier, who started fifth and ran in the top-five throughout the night, flipped in the final corner on the final lap to bring out the last caution. He finished 17th.
But it was Bell, who in just his seventh Chili Bowl Nationals start, dominated the field.
After scoring his first victory in just his third truck start in 2015, Bell was extremely inconsistent starting last year's full schedule. Once he settled down, the rookie offered a glimpse of his potential, first winning at Gateway Motorsports Park to qualify for the inaugural Chase, then holding on in the playoffs to finish third in the truck standings.
“I learned a lot throughout my years and going pavement racing has really helped me learn how to manage long races. Fifty-five laps is a long time. I’m going to try and attack this race differently than I have in the past — just run hard enough to maintain.
“I’ve learned that there’s only one lap that really matters — and that’s the last one. We’re just going to go out there and ride a little bit and hopefully be there at the end.”
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