Chili Bowl Nationals Wednesday report

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Crawford on Wednesday in Chili Bowl Thriller!

TULSA, Okla. (January 12, 2011) -- The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals has been built on a quarter-century of truly indescribable and unforgettable moments in auto racing history. It's time to tack on another one.

Wednesday night's finish in the 25-lap River Spirit Casino Qualifier at the 25th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals atop the QuikTrip Center's Tulsa Expo Raceway is one of those that will be remembered and rehashed for generations to come. So, perhaps it's only fitting that a name steeped in Tulsa racing history, "Crawford", take the spotlight in such a moment.

With Roger Slack's checkered flag in sight, a three-wide scrum for the lead off the final corner ensued between Cole Whitt, Damion Gardner and Donnie Ray Crawford, with Broken Arrow's Crawford reaching the line to become the first Chili Bowl preliminary feature event winner to hail from the Sooner State in event history.

"It still hasn't sunk in yet, I'm still not sure I won it!" Crawford exclaimed afterward.

Leading little more than a few feet of the race, the 23-year-old Crawford took the checkered flag aboard the Mopar-powered Hard Eight Racing Kantor Oil Company No. 8k Maxim by a narrow margin over 2008 Chili Bowl champion Gardner, who flipped just across the line to secure runner-up honors.

"Everything fell into place," Crawford explained. "About lap 20 we lost brakes and I was sweating bullets every time I saw a caution, I just wanted that race to get over. The right place at the right time, I guess, is how you describe that."

After surrendering the point to Gardner after leading the initial 22 circuits, Whitt's attempted slider in the final pair of corners fell just short with tail tank catching Gardner's front end. Gardner stabbed at the brakes and dove under Whitt coming off turn four, but an opportunistic Crawford was there on the low side to take full advantage.

"I wasn't sure if he was gonna make a run on me but he did, it's the Chili Bowl so he was trying to get the victory," Gardner explained of the slider from Whitt. "I clipped him a little bit and turned him a little bit. I got off the brakes to let go of him and I saw the 8 car (Crawford) inside of me so I just gassed it."

Suddenly, three cars tried to fill enough space for just two with the finish line tantalizingly close. The meat of the sandwich between Crawford on the low side and Whitt up top, Gardner climbed a wheel and cart wheeled to the finish line as Crawford scrambled away. There was no escaping the fray for 2010 Chili Bowl runner-up Whitt though, who barely limped to the line and was officially scored in seventh after video review.

"I knew I was gonna ricochet off him a little bit and the 71 (Whitt), it was kind of like a running back going for the touchdown between two lineman," Gardner explained of the frantic finish. "I knew I was probably gonna flip, but I'll just land somewhere on the other side. One through three was good enough."

The biggest benefactor of the wild finish, aside from the victorious Crawford, was California native Thomas Meseraull, who snatched the third and final lock-in position to Saturday night's 50-lap Chili Bowl championship main event.JJ"I'm shocked to be here, it's kinda bittersweet, the motor didn't run right," Meseraull explained after late engine issues cropped up. "We're a little worried, we don't have a spare motor and hopefully we can get that all figured out. But it's pretty awesome to be locked in the feature."

While front row starters Whitt and Gardner broke away from the field in the early going along with Bobby East, there were early hints of mayhem with severe jockeying for position from fourth on back with J.J. Yeley and Meseraull among those mixing it up the most.

Yeley's mount soured on a lap eleven restart and third-starter Crawford, who had drifted back to seventh in the early rounds, finally got the bottom of the 0x00bc-mile clay oval working to his liking and was back in the picture by taking fourth from Meseraull on the eleventh lap and then third from East the next time around.

While Whitt held pole starter Gardner at bay by several car-lengths most of the way, a slight bobble in turns three and four on the 22nd lap allowed Gardner to close in. Gardner pounced on the lead in the next corner, with a final caution involving Matt Sherrell and Johnny Herrera setting up a green-white-checkered run to the stripe and the spectacular finish.

With Crawford, the 2007 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year, taking the checkered flag before a thunderous crowd of spectators, it was Gardner putting a second Loyet Motorsports entry into Saturday's finale after Michael Pickens finished second in the Tuesday opener. Gardner also matched Pickens effort of earning the pole position for the feature in the Esslinger-powered Loyet Landscape Maintenance/Meramec Heights Collision No. 05g Spike.

In the hunt throughout, Meseraull locked into his third consecutive Chili Bowl finale by taking the show position in Mark Bush's Esslinger-powered Pro Shocks/Outlaw Disc Brakes No. 2T Spike.

Tenth-starter Kevin Ramey, who tailed Crawford to the front of the pack on the low side of the track, slipped past Bobby East on the final lap to take fourth in Ray Williams' Esslinger-powered City Vending/EJ's Towing No. 7m Spike with East rounding out the top five in the Ford Racing Klatt Enterprises No. 4e Beast.

Brad Sweet rebounded from a qualifying race miscue to climb from 17th to sixth in the main event, just edging out Whitt at the stripe as the caution flew simultaneously with the checkered flag.

With scoring reverted to the previous lap after Whitt due to the yellow flag, the rest of the top ten included Matt Mitchell, Mike Spencer and Gary Taylor.

Meseraull, Scotty Weir, Spencer, Gardner, Yeley, Dave Camfield, Jr., Whitt and East topped heat race action for Wednesday night's 64-car field, with East, Robby Josett, Yeley and Whitt winning the qualifying races.

Billy Lawhead and Jimmy Sills won the "C" Mains, with Sweet and T.J. Smith victorious in "B" Main action.

Eric Sandage's flip down the frontstretch just two laps into the "A" Main was the wildest of the night's flippage, with others turning over including Jimmy Winkler, Clint Todd, Tanner Swanson and Daniel Adler.

Wednesday Night's River Spirit Casino Qualifier Results from the 25th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals:

Heat Races (8 Laps -- Top 40 in passing points to A Qualifiers; Balance to twin C Mains)

Heat 1: 1. #2T Thomas Meseraull, San Jose, CA; 2. #7M Kevin Ramey, Fort Worth, TX; 3. #19TK Tanner Swanson, Kingsburg, CA; 4. #61 Eric Sandage, Alexander, AR; 5. #6A Jason Cox, Park City, IL; 6. #8X Murray Erickson, Odessa, TX; 7. #25E Courtney Erfurth, Oregon, WI; 8. #23JR J.D. Black, Grain Valley, MO

Heat 2: 1. #2B Scotty Weir, Marion, IN; 2. #81M Matt Mitchell, Yorba Linda, CA; 3. #10 Will Pierce, Lees Summit, MO; 4. #05T Gary Taylor, Snohomish, WA; 5. #11C Chett Gehrke, Broken Arrow, OK; 6. #17T Jimmy Sills, Elverta, CA; 7. #73X Greg Edenholm, Oxnard, CA DNS -- #911 Mike Barker, Elgin, OK

Heat 3: 1. #51S Mike Spencer, Temecula, CA; 2. #4 Tony Elliott, Warsaw, IN; 3. #94AU Brad Cox, Gunnedah, AUS; 4. #00 Pete Davis, Pleasanton, CA; 5. #35M Matt Sherrell, Owasso, OK; 6. #3J Julee Jamison, Highlands, CO; 7. #20B Jimmy Owens, Newport, TN; 8. #69M Mark Chisholm, Cheyenne, WY

Heat 4: 1. #05G Damion Gardner, Concord, CA; 2. #112 Tyler Edwards, Salina, OK; 3. #401 Daniel Adler, Columbia, IL; 4. #83B Bruce Buckwalter Jr., Royersford, PA; 5. #37T Nick Speidel, Muncie, IN; 6. #57 Kevin Studley, Plainfield, IN; 7. #7H Layne Himebaugh, Collinsville, OK; 8. #7J Clint Todd, Lynchburg, MO

Heat 5: 1. #1J J.J. Yeley, Phoenix, AZ; 2. #12JR Josh Pelkey, Peoria, AZ; 3. #15M Jay Drake, Val Verde, CA; 4. #2R Levi Roberts, Broomfield, CO; 5. #5 Randy Hannagan, San Jose, CA; 6. #67K Dalton Armstrong, New Castle, IN; 7. #59L Billy Lawhead, Tulsa, OK: 8. #9M Doug McCune, Colleyville, TX

Heat 6: 1. #86C David Camfield Jr., Decatur, IL; 2. #49X Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA; 3. #5D Zach Daum, Pocahontas, IL; 4. #7S T.J. Smith, Fresno, CA; 5. #98G Gavin Galbraith, Washington, MO; 6. #55 Tony Everhart, El Cajon, CA; 7. #16W Jimmy Winkler, Parkville, MO; 8. #17KX Kyle Chady, Benton, IL

Heat 7: #71 Cole Whitt, Alpine, CA; 2. #11B Brett Anderson, Belleville, IL; 3. #02 Robby Josett, Santa Clarita, CA; 4. #89JR Todd McVay, Grain Valley, MO; 5. #B5 Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, IL; 6. #82 Eric Johnson, Rockford, IL; 7. #81 Ryan Beechler, McKinney, TX; 8. #12R Brian Rieck, St. Louis, MO

Heat 8: 1. #4E Bobby East, Brownsburg, IN; 2. #19S Patrick Stasa, Kingman, KS; 3. #8K Donnie Ray Crawford, Broken Arrow, OK; 4. #15H Scott Hatton, Roscoe, IL; 5. #45X C.J. Johnson, Quinter, KS; 6. #75H Johnny Herrera, Albuquerque, NM; 7. #31E Evan Sewell, Tulsa, OK; 8. #35T Tyler Robbins, Collinsville, IL

C Mains (10 Laps -- Top 4 in each transfer to back of corresponding B Main)

C Main 1: 1. #59L Billy Lawhead, Tulsa, OK; 2. #20B Jimmy Owens, Newport, TN; 3. #7H Layne Himebaugh, Collinsville, OK; 4. #17KX Kyle Chady, Benton, IL; 5. #67K Dalton Armstrong, New Castle, IN; 6. #9U Doug McCune, Colleyville, TX; 7. #16W Jimmy Winkler, Parkville, MO; 8. #81 Ryan Beechler, McKinney, TX; 9. #57 Kevin Studley, Plainfield, IN; 10. #45X C.J. Johnson, Quinter, KS; 11. #7J Clint Todd, Lynchburg, MO DNS -- #55 Tony Everhart, El Cajon, CA

C Main 2: 1. #17T Jimmy Sills, Elverta, CA; 2. #31E Evan Sewell, Tulsa, OK; 3. #3J Julee Jamison, Highlands, CO; 4. #82 Eric Johnson, Rockford, IL; 5. #23JR J.D. Black, Grain Valley, MO; 6. #8X Murray Erickson, Odessa, TX; 7. #73X Greg Edenholm, Oxnard, CA; 8. #25E Courtney Erfurth, Oregon, WI; 9. #69M Mark Chisholm, Cheyenne, WY; 10. #35T Tyler Robbins, Collinsville, IL; 11. #12R Brian Rieck, St. Louis, MO DNS -- #911 Mike Baker, Elgin, OK

A Qualifiers (10 Laps -- Top 16 in combined passing points to A Main; Balance to twin B Mains)

A Qualifier 1: 1. #4E Bobby East, Brownsburg, IN; 2. #05G Damion Gardner, Concord, CA; 3. #4 Tony Elliott, Warsaw, IN; 4. #7M Kevin Ramey, Fort Worth, TX; 5. #7S T.J. Smith, Fresno, CA; 6. #5 Randy Hannagan, San Jose, CA; 7. #00 Pete Davis, Pleasanton, CA; 8. #89JR Todd McVay, Grain Valley, MO; 9. #19TK Tanner Swanson, Kingsburg, CA; 10. #401 Daniel Adler, Columbia, IL

A Qualifier 2: 1. #02 Robby Josett, Santa Clarita, CA; 2. #51S Mike Spencer, Temecula, CA; 3. #5D Zach Daum, Pocahontas, IL; 4. #12JR Josh Pelkey, Peoria, AZ; 5. #2B Scotty Weir, Marion, IN; 6. #75H Johnny Herrera, Albuquerque, NM; 7. #2R Levi Roberts, Broomfield, CO; 8. #49X Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA; 9. #11C Chett Gehrke, Broken Arrow, OK: 10. #10 Will Pierce, Lees Summit, MO

A Qualifier 3: 1. #1J J.J. Yeley, Phoenix, AZ; 2. #11B Brett Anderson, Belleville, IL; 3. #2T Thomas Meseraull, San Jose, CA; 4. #35M Matt Sherrell, Owasso, OK: 5. #81M Matt Mitchell, Yorba Linda, CA; 6. #15M Jay Drake, Val Verde, CA; 7. #15H Scott Hatton, Roscoe, IL; 8. #83B Bruce Buckwalter Jr., Royersford, PA; 9. #112 Tyler Edwards, Salina, OK; 10. #6A Jason Cox, Park, City, IL

A Qualifier 4: 1. #71 Cole Whitt, Alpine, CA; 2. #8K Donnie Ray Crawford, Broken Arrow, OK; 3. #05T Gary Taylor, Snohomish, WA; 4. #19S Patrick Stasa, Kingman, KS; 5. #61 Eric Sandage, Alexander, AR; 6. #94AU Brad Cox, Gunnedah, AUS; 7. #B5 Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, IL; 8. #86C David Camfield Jr., Decatur, IL; 9. #98G Gavin Galbraith, Washington, MO; 10. #37T Nick Speidel, Muncie, IN

B Mains (15 Laps -- Top 4 in each transfer to A Main)

B Main 1: 1. #49X Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA; 2. #12JR Josh Pelkey, Peoria, AZ; 3. #2R Levi Roberts, Broomfield, CO; 4. #5 Randy Hannagan, San Jose, CA; 5. #112 Tyler Edwards, Salina, OK: 6. #59L Billy Lawhead, Tulsa, OK; 7. #15M Jay Drake, Val Verde, CA; 8. #20B Jimmy Owens, Newport, TN; 9. #17KX Kyle Chady, Benton, IL; 10. #19S Patrick Stasa, Kingman, KS; 11. #94AU Brad Cox, Gunnedah, AUS; 12. #7H Layne Himebaugh, Collinsville, OK; 13. #98G Gavin Galbraith, Washington, MO; 14. #37T Nick Speidel, Muncie, IN; 15. #B5 Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, IL; 16. Tanner Swanson, Kingsburg, CA

B Main 2: 1. #7S T. J. Smith, Fresno, CA; 2. #00 Pete Davis, Pleasanton, CA; 3. #75H Johnny Herrera, Albuquerque, NM; 4. #61 Eric Sandage, Alexander, AR; 5. #86C David Camfield Jr., Decatur, IL; 6. #15H Scott Hatton, Roscoe, IL; 7. #10 Will Pierce, Lees Summit, MO; 8. #17T Jimmy Sills, Elverta, CA; 9. #11C Chett Gehrke, Broken Arrow, OK; 10. #89JR Todd McVay, Grain Valley, MO; 11. #31E Evan Sewell, Tulsa, OK; 12. #83B Bruce Buckwalter Jr., Royersford, PA; 13. #82 Eric Johnson, Rockford, IL; 14. #3J Julee Jamison, Highlands, CO; 15. #6A Jason Cox, Park City, IL; 16. #401 Daniel Adler, Columbia, IL

A Main (25 laps -- Top 3 advance to Saturday Night's Main Event)

1. #8K Donnie Ray Crawford, Broken Arrow, OK; 2. #05G Damion Gardner, Concord, CA; 3. #2T Thomas Meseraull, San Jose, CA; 4. #7M Kevin Ramey, Fort Worth, TX; 5. #4E Bobby East, Brownsburg, IN; 6. #49X Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA; 7. #71 Cole Whitt, Alpine, CA; 8. #81M Matt Mitchell, Yorba Linda, CA; 9. #51S Mike Spencer, Temecula, CA; 10. #05T Gary Taylor, Snohomish, WA; 11. #4 Tony Elliott, Warsaw, IN; 12. #2B Scotty Weir, Marion, IN; 13. #00 Pete Davis, Pleasanton, CA; 14. #2R Levi Roberts, Broomfield, CO; 15. #02 Robby Josett, Santa Clarita, CA; 16. #12JR Josh Pelkey, Peoria, AZ; 17. #7S T.J. Smith, Fresno, CA; 18. #11B Brett Anderson, Belleville, IL; 19. #5D Zach Daum, Pocahontas, IL; 20. #5 Randy Hannagan, San Jose, CA; 21. #35M Matt Sherrell, Owasso, OK; 22. #75H Johnny Herrera, Albuquerque, NM; 23. #1J J.J. Yeley, Phoenix, AZ; 24. #61 Eric Sandage, Alexander, AR

-source: lw/cbn

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