It took Christopher Bell a third of the distance to get the lead on Thursday night, but once he did it was all over.
Starting sixth, Bell blasted past Thomas Meseraull for the top spot on lap 11 and then put on a clinic in how to handle traffic, leading the final 19 circuits and transferring to the main event in the 34th annual Chili Bowl.
“I love this place,” said the Norman, Okla. native who will be shooting for his fourth consecutive victory Saturday night. “That was as fun as it gets, you could run up or down, and it’s so equal. That’s so much fun racing.”
Like his rival Kyle Larson, Bell left Keith Kunz’s dominant team this year and is driving for racer Chad Boat in the Tucker-Boat Spike/Toyota. “We’ve got a great race car, and the slicker the track gets the better we run, so bring it on,” said the soon-to-be star of NASCAR’s top level.
Bell’s only hiccup came as he negotiated Turn 4 and headed for the white flag. He was lapping Dave Darland, they tangled briefly and Bell got sideways before regaining control. “That startled me pretty bad, and we’re lucky we didn’t get boogered up,” he said.
Meseraull, a standout in USAC sprints for the past decade, turned in a nifty performance to hold off Michael Kofoid for second place and the other automatic slot in Saturday’s A Main.
“I like to think I do a good job and Chris Bell is a badass, I’m just trying too pay my bills,” said the native of San Jose, Ca. after his run in the RMS Spike/Toyota.
Kofoid, driving for Kunz, stalked T Mez the entire distance but just couldn’t quite pull off a pass.
“It’s one thing being on him and another getting by,” said Kofoid. “But third for my first time is pretty special.”
Former USAC midget champ Spencer Bayston put on the drive of the night and charged from 15th to sixth while fellow USAC champ C.J. Leary went from 12th to seventh. Leary was penalized for jumping the start in his preliminary race or the Greenfield, Ind. driver would have started second in the A Main.