Chili Bowl: "Going back-to-back means even more" for Christopher Bell
Kudos to Chili Bowl Nationals promoter Emmett Hahn for expanding the 2019 schedule to include an extra day of racing.
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With more than 350 competitors entered and 117 races run, it’s tough to tackle every story that begged to be told in five days.
Christopher Bell, the defending winner, received his due—deservedly so. He backed up his 2017 maiden victory with a second on Saturday, becoming just the third driver to win consecutive Golden Drillers.
The victory also marked the fourth-straight Chili Bowl win for the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian organization. Rico Abreu, who finished second to Bell, went back-to-back in 2015-2016. Kunz midgets swept the podium with Spencer Bayston finishing third in the finale.
“It’s just crazy, it’s so hard to win this race,” Kunz said. “Just very fortunate to have the drivers that we have. They’re the best, and that’s why they are where they are. (Kyle) Larson, Bell and Rico–that’s why they’re in NASCAR, because they’re the best, and they proved it again here tonight.”
Bell believes Kunz was just tired of getting beaten. The owner’s determination and support from Toyota helped turned the tide and elevate KKM to the level of domination once enjoyed by Sammy Swindell and son Kevin Swindell, the latter of whom is the only driver to win four straight Golden Drillers.
“Sammy and Kevin accomplished the same thing for a long time,” Bell said of the Swindells' domination five Chili Bowls from 2009 to 2013. “Now, Keith has done so much homework to over come that. I remember my first year coming to the Chili Bowl and driving for Keith we had regular outdoor race cars with what looked like Silver Crown tail tanks on them. Larson started up front with Kevin and Sammy, and Larson, I believe, passed Sammy and was racing with Kevin before Kyle spun out.”
“From that point on, leaving the Chili Bowl, Keith knew he had to up his game. He felt like he hit the setup that night. He had the best driver he could ask for and Sammy and Kevin still beat him. From that point on, it’s really been a game changer. He put more focus into the Chili Bowl and that started translating into outdoor racing. So the Chili Bowl of 2013, that was the turning point to build these immaculate race cars that you see today.”
Kevin and Sammy finished first and second, respectively, that night. Certainly the dynamic has changed after Kevin was injured after flipping in the 2015 Knoxville Nationals. While Sammy qualified for his 24th A-Main—a stretch dating back to the first CBNs in 1987—Kunz had six of 24 midgets in the feature on Saturday night.
For Bell, it marked his fifth-straight A-Main appearance and his 46th-national midget feature. But for the Norman, Oklahoma native, nothing beats winning in front of the Tulsa crowd in the Super Bowl of midgets.
“Last year was so special and every year that I got closer and closer to winning the Chili Bowl, I could feel the atmosphere pick up and the intensity pick up every time they announced my name,” Bell said. “For an Oklahoma guy to not win for so long and then to get it last year was pretty special, but going back-to-back means even more. I’ve got the best race cars out there, and I just try to get the most out of them and I’ve been able to do that the last couple of times here.”
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