Friday Chili Bowl qualifying showdown report

Kruser tops Friday's Cherokee Casino Chili Bowl Qualifying Showdown. Lonnie Wheatley - TULSA, Okla. (January 10, 2003) - Cory Kruseman became the third past Chili Bowl champion in as many nights to grace Tulsa Expo Raceway's victory lane, as he...

Kruser tops Friday's Cherokee Casino Chili Bowl Qualifying Showdown.

Lonnie Wheatley - TULSA, Okla. (January 10, 2003) - Cory Kruseman became the third past Chili Bowl champion in as many nights to grace Tulsa Expo Raceway's victory lane, as he led Tony Stewart to the checkered flag in Friday night's 25-lap Cherokee Casino Chili Bowl Nationals Qualifying Showdown main event.

Kruseman fought off National Midget Driver of the Year Aaron Fike in the early going, then survived a pair of late cautions to secure the victory in the third and final night of qualifying action at the 17th Annual Chili Bowl Nationals.

Fike earned the pole position for Friday's feature by coming from seventh to win the fifth heat. Kruseman nearly matched Fike's feat by coming from sixth to win the ninth heat, good enough for a front row outside start.

As the green flag flew, Fike and Kruseman battled side-by-side into the first corner, with Kruseman using the high side to motor Andy Bondio's Barnes-powered machine into the lead exiting the second turn on the opening round. Fike kept the pressure on Kruseman in the opening rounds, as the pair gradually built an advantage over Mike Hess, fifth-starter Stewart and Don Droud, Jr., who advanced from his eighth starting slot into fifth by the fifth circuit.

As Fike shadowed Kruseman's every move, Droud pulled off a well-executed pass of Stewart for fourth on the ninth round, only to have Stewart return the favor to regain the position a half lap later. Stewart quickly improved to third when Fike jumped the turn two cushion on the 10th round, then moved around Hess for second a lap later as Fike's near-contact with the turn two wall relegated him to sixth.

Lapped traffic came into play on the 15th round, with Kruseman holding more than a half straightaway advantage over Stewart. Kruseman worked his way through traffic masterfully until action was interrupted for a lap 18 flip down the frontstretch by Donnie Lehmann. Lehmann was uninjured.

Kruseman survived one more brief stoppage three rounds later, then rode the rim to perfection over the final five rounds to notch the victory by a half straightaway over Stewart's Stanton Race Engines Mopar-powered Kunz. Making his Chili Bowl debut, Droud moved into third on the 20th round when Hess bobbled and held the show position in the Lincoln Auto Auction/Durst Motors Ed Pink-powered Beast at the line. Fike battled back in the Wis-Co Racing Stanton Mopar-powered Stealth to claim the fourth and final transfer position to Saturday night's Chili Bowl Nationals finale.

After winning the first B Feature, Robby Flock battled from his 15th starting slot to a fifth place finish, nearly slipping around Fike for fourth on the final round. Dave Darland charged from 19th to claim sixth, with Hess, Brian Gerster, Dallen McKenney and Clay Klepper completing the top ten.

In the post-race draw to determine Saturday night's feature starting positions, Kruseman drew the number two pill, giving him the outside front row starting slot. Wednesday night winner Dan Boorse drew the pole, with Thursday winner Scott Hatton drawing the three pill for a second row inside starting position.

Hatton will be joined in the second row of Saturday night's feature by Stewart, who drew the number four pill, with other qualifying action runner-ups Randy Koch and Jimmy Sills in the third row.

Gerster, Hess, Mike Leslie, Lehmann, Fike, Gary Wright, Darland, Stewart and Kruseman each topped heat race action for the 72-car field on the well-manicured quarter-mile oval. Flock and Wright claimed the 12-lap B Feature victories, with Paul McMahan and Tony Elliot winning the 12-lap C Mains.

Including Lehmann, there were eight flip victims during the evening's action. Tyce Carlson, Paul Perkins, Jackie Burke, Wayne Chinn and Mark Lightfoot all took heat race tumbles, with Boyd Calvert and Tom Hessert each flipping in the second B Main. There were no injuries.

In the 15-lap Ford Focus Midget event, featuring a fully inverted start from Thursday's feature, Darren Hagen took command at the drop of the green flag and paced the field wire-to-wire to claim the win. Hagen won by several car-lengths, with Chad DeSelle topping a multi-car battle to claim second in front of Garrett Hansen, Thursday's winner Josh Lakatos and Bobby McGowan.

Lakatos' fourth place showing, along with Thursday's win, netted him the best average finish over both features, earning an invitation to the First Annual Cherokee Casino Ford Focus Midget Race of Champions presented by Ford of Tulsa, to be held on Saturday night.

-cbn-

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Series Midget
Drivers Tony Stewart , Tyce Carlson , Dave Darland , Aaron Fike , Cory Kruseman , Tom Hessert , Paul McMahan , Jimmy Sills , Clay Klepper , Robby Flock , Mike Leslie , Donnie Lehmann , Chad DeSelle , Josh Lakatos , Darren Hagen , Jackie Burke , Scott Hatton , Garrett Hansen