Christopher Bell pushed to a dramatic victory in a wild night of action on Thursday for the 36th annual Chili Bowl Nationals.
The 27-year-old Oklahoma native was directly in the wake of Tanner Thorson’s No. 19T Reinbold Underwood Motorsports Stanton through the mid-to-late stages of the 30 lap contest. After navigating multiple lines and numerous restarts, Bell was finally able to put a slide job on Thorson entering Turn 1 to take the lead with five laps to go. From there, the two battled side-by-side until Thorson’s quest to retake the lead stalled out on the penultimate lap.
In the end, Bell’s No. 71W Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota was able to cross the finish line ahead of Thorson by 0.380s. C.J. Leary finished third to claim the final spot on the podium and continue a strong week for Alex Bowman Racing.
“He (Thorson) was doing a good job on the restarts taking off real slow and I kept trying to time it,” said Bell, a three-time Chili Bowl champion. “It was super narrow off (Turn) 4. I timed it really good the last time. And then I popped the berm and my front end got in the air and I couldn’t steer and almost crashed (C.J.) Leary, so that wasn’t ideal. But yeah, even before that I got going really good on the top about midway through the race. I started picking guys off, got by C.J. and then I was coming on Tanner there and then the yellow came out. He moved up and took my line away from me. So at that point, I just committed to the bottom and tried to get going as good as I could down there.”
The result gives Bell seven consecutive prelim wins and his eighth overall, which ties him with Sammy Swindell for the most all-time. Additionally, it keeps Keith Kunz Motorsports undefeated this week with a perfect record of four wins thus far.
For Thorson, it was a disappointing loss after a strong performance. However, he, along with Bell, is locked into the main event for Saturday.
“I was watching the (video) board and saw Bell coming and knew I needed to kind of get up and rip,” Thorson said. “I was ripping the top and then I saw – Leary, might have been Bell, I don’t know – a couple white cars running the bottom and, went back to the bottom and then next thing I know, I see Bell rip the top again. I get back up there and I knew it was a matter of time before Bell threw a bomb on me.
“I was waiting for it. I honestly was waiting for it, so I was trying to screw him up on the restarts as best as I could. Then, after we started sliding each other and crossing each other back over, it kind of went into all out and just sailed off in (Turn) 3 and was hoping I could try to drive on him, but I just kept getting tight off of (Turn) 4.”
CBell does it!
— FloRacing (@FloRacing) January 14, 2022
Tim Buckwalter and Shane Golobic rounded out the top five. Brady Bacon, Dillon Welch, Matt Sherrell, Emerson Axsom and Don Droud Jr. completed the top 10.
Other notables on the night included 13-year-old Brent Crews, who won both his heat and qualifier to start second in the A-Feature. Unfortunately, though, the night would end with a 20th-place finish. Damion Gardner, the 2008 Chili Bowl champion, was a signature of adversity after battling back from last in the D-Feature to be in the A-Feature prior to crashing out with eight laps remaining while running 12th. He ended up 19th.
A-Feature: Top 2 advance to Saturday’s A-Feature. [starting position]
A Feature (30 Laps): 1. 71W-Christopher Bell ; 2. 19T-Tanner Thorson ; 3. 55V-C.J. Leary ; 4. 29-Tim Buckwalter ; 5. 17W-Shane Golobic ; 6. 21H-Brady Bacon; 7. 81X-Dillon Welch ; 8. 2D-Matt Sherrell ; 9. 39B-Emerson Axsom ; 10. 22T-Don Droud Jr ; 11. 68W-Shane Cottle ; 12. 1S-Spencer Bayston ; 13. 25B-Steve Buckwalter ; 14. 51B-Joe B Miller ; 15. 9-Mitchell Davis ; 16. 71R-Frankie Guerrini ; 17. 47X-Danny Stratton ; 18. (DNF) 15D-Andrew Deal ; 19. (DNF) 71G-Damion Gardner ; 20. (DNF) 86-Brent Crews ; 21. (DNF) 77-Stevie Sussex III ; 22. (DNF) 4M-Brody Fuson ; 23. (DNF) 57-Maria Cofer ; 24. (DNF) 2E-Whit Gastineau 
Lap Leader(s): Shane Golobic 1-4; Tanner Thorson 5-26; Christopher Bell 27-30
Hard Charger: Tim Buckwalter +16