The final results were no surprise — Christopher Bell won the 25-lap A-Main qualifier on Thursday night and remains a favorite to win his third consecutive Chili Bowl Nationals on Saturday evening.
But even though he led all but one lap in his Kunz-Willoughby Toyota, Bell had to use all his skill to fend off Shane Golobic.
In a race that took 45 minutes to complete due to four false starts and nine caution flags, the crowd was at least treated to a slam-bang finish.
Originally lined up third, Bell was moved to the pole when Danny Stratton was penalized for jumping the green flag and moved back to third.
And Bell really had no challenges until the final three laps. On the Lap 23 restart, the Norman, Okla. driver did what had been successful all evening and went low to protect his lead, but he high-sided and lost his momentum which allowed Golobic to get a great run going down the backstretch and he snatched the top spot going into Turn 3. But Bell used a nifty cross-over move and reclaimed first place by the time they hit Turn 1 again and that was it.
“Shane did a really good job on restarts and I’m just glad I had enough traction to get back inside him,” said Bell, who gave Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby their fourth consecutive A Main victory of the week.
Golobic, a California native who started fourth, was happy with his effort and to be locked into Saturday night’s 55-lap main event.
“I had a blast and I ran my tail off but Christopher is so good,” said Golobic, who drives for the Clauson-Marshall team. “I’m really proud of this team and now we’ve just got to figure out a way got get a little bit better so we can beat that 71 car (Bell).”
The best drive of the race came from Greenfield’s C.J. Leary. Starting eighth, he charged all the way up to second for a brief instant on Lap 24 before Golobic got back by and wound up third — in a good spot for one of the B Mains.
“I’d have been happier if it had stayed green because I think we’d figured out something but were not going to hang out head about third,” said Leary.
Stratton managed to salvage fourth place and earn a good starting spot in a B Main.