Rico Abreu delivered a relentless drive to win Wednesday’s qualifying night for the 36th annual Chili Bowl Nationals.
Starting from the third position in the A-Feature, the 29-year-old California native was in the mix of aggressive track position battles early on. After outdueling Kevin Thomas Jr. and Colby Copeland, Abreu found himself in the runner-up spot and chasing race leader Jason McDougal on lap 11 of 30.
McDougal’s was up roughly 1s over the field until a caution on the following lap erased the gap. Moments after the restart, Abreu propelled to the lead with a slide job in Turn 4.
Abreu kept the No. 97 Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota out front despite challenges by Chase Randall, as well as a last lap push by Thomas In the end, Abreu, a two-time Chili Bowl champion, held serve at the top spot and crossed the finish line 0.353s ahead of Thomas.
The result marks Abreu’s seventh Wednesday night prelim victory, including the last five consecutive. Additionally, Keith Kunz Motorsports remains undefeated through the opening three nights of this year’s event at the Tulsa Expo Center.
“Anytime you put yourself in position in this in this building in this event for Saturday, it’s pretty special moments,” Abreu said. “You know, the biggest thing is me experiencing those moments with my team and then experiencing that sensation of winning. I really get a kick out of that. There’s new crew members on Keith Kunz Motorsports organization this year and it’s just really cool to see them in Victory Lane with me, and not only just with me but three nights in a row now here at the Chili Bowl.”
For Thomas, it marks the first time he’s transferred straight into Saturday’s main event from a prelim.
“We felt really good early,” said Thomas, driver of the No. 5T Timms-Alexander Stanton. “I think we made a little bit of headway on the top. When the bottom kind of got going, he [Abreu] got by us. There was probably like a five lap point in the race where I went backwards and then got back up through there after a couple restarts. … I just tried to stay patient down there (on the bottom), put myself in a good position.
“Right there at the end, I don’t know. It may have taken another lap, but another lap — obviously he went down to the bottom at the right time — he would’ve figured it out. It was just two good race cars and we just raced each other as hard as we could, as clean as we could. And I felt confident in what we had come Saturday. We have to do a little bit of work, but it’s good for the guys.”
Blake Hahn claimed the final spot on the podium, with Copeland and McDougal rounding out the rest of the top five.
A-Feature: Top 2 advance to Saturday’s A-Feature [starting position]
A Feature (30 Laps): 1. 97-Rico Abreu ; 2. 5T-Kevin Thomas Jr ; 3. 52-Blake Hahn ; 4. 27W-Colby Copeland ; 5. 4B-Jason McDougal ; 6. 1R-Brad Sweet ; 7. 19A-Chase Randall ; 8. 26C-Chance Crum ; 9. 47Z-Corey Day ; 10. 55D-Nick Drake ; 11. M1-Colby Stubblefield ; 12. 83-Dominic Gorden ; 13. 21S-Karter Sarff ; 14. 25V-Billy VanInwegen Jr ; 15. 7M-Brody Roa ; 16. 21T-Tommy Kunsman ; 17. 2W-Tony Bruce Jr ; 18. 25K-Taylor Reimer ; 19. 17-Tanner Berryhill; 20. 51-RJ Johnson ; 21. 1G-Justin Peck ; 22. (DNF) 19-Parker Price Miller ; 23. (DNF) 4D-Robert Dalby ; 24. (DNF) 8K-Jake Neal 
Lap Leader(s): Jason McDougal 1-13; Rico Abreu 14-30
Hard Charger: Chance Crum +8