Guide to 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals: Can Bell four-peat?

Chase Wilhelm

Feeling cold this winter? Well, let the annual Chili Bowl Nationals warm you up.

This week, some of the best drivers dirt racing has to offer have flocked to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the 34th running of the annual indoor midget car event held on a 1/5-mile dirt oval at the River Spirit Expo Center. As of Jan. 13, more than 340 drivers and teams were featured on the entry list as five qualifying nights lie ahead leading up to Saturday night‘s A-Main event. The champion gets the coveted Golden Driller, a replica of the 76-foot statue located outside the venue.

NASCAR Cup Series rookie Christopher Bell will be vying for his fourth straight Chili Bowl Nationals title. Last year, Bell muscled his way past NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson on the final lap to take home his fourth Golden Driller.

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If Bell is able to accomplish the feat, he‘ll be just the third driver to win four or more and the second driver to win four straight events, tying four-time winner Kevin Swindell (2010-13). Dirt racing legend Sammy Swindell is the all-time winner of the Chili Bowl with five victories (1989, ‘92, ‘96, ‘98, 2009).

MRN: Inside Bell and Larson‘s friendly rivalry

The Chili Bowl has become grounds for a civil but fierce rivalry between the two competitors as Bell has beat Larson after going toe-to-toe with him in the final circuits the past three occasions.

“That was probably the most exciting win of my career, I‘ve never had a last-lap pass on a big stage like that,” Bell said of last year‘s bout with Larson on Episode 28 of MRN‘s Rip the Fence podcast.

MORE: Bell edges Larson to win 2019 Chili Bowl

While losing always hurts for every driver worth his mettle, Bell knows the mutual respect between the two of them runs deep.

“I don‘t know if you guys see a different face of Kyle every time, I see him we are on great terms,” Bell said. “He‘s beaten me plenty, and it‘s not fun.”

“When I beat him last year the press conference was tough. I felt bad for beating him, but I was heartbroken for him, because I do care about Kyle and that‘s his number one race he wants to win, and he had it till the last lap.”

For Larson, the mistake made on the final lap last year stuck in his craw for a while, but there came a time where he had to get over it and focus forward.

“It definitely kept me up at night following some of the losses, but the pain goes away,” Larson said on Episode 71 of MRN‘s Rip the Fence podcast.

Both Bell and Larson enter new territory this year by leaving Keith Kunz Motorsports under good terms. For Larson, it was the chance to try something different as the Chili Bowl still eludes him, racing in his own equipment with the No. 01 Kyle Larson midget. Bell has also made the significant move by joining forces with Tucker-Boat Motorsports and team owner Chad Boat to race the 84x midget, a partnership that came to fruition in 2019.

“Our car has been really good ever since I got my own midget,” Larson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday. “I‘ve only lost one time in it, so it‘s been good. It seems like since Bell‘s gone to Chad Boat‘s team, he‘s struggled a little bit but their stuff is always really good in that building.”

“Christopher is obviously an amazing driver, too. You can never count them out. I think it‘s going to be a little bit tougher this year than years past, but we‘ve just got to wait and see.”

Monday kicked off a week of action-packed racing, including practice rounds that began at 9 a.m. local time, followed by the first night of preliminary racing. The entry list is divided into sections for each qualifying night, which includes a series of heat races and qualifiers, followed by a 25-lap feature event. The top-two finishers in each qualifying night feature event lock themselves into the 24-car A-Feature event on Saturday night.

Current and former NASCAR drivers competing:

  • Rico Abreu

  • Justin Allgaier

  • Christopher Bell

  • Alex Bowman

  • Chase Briscoe

  • Cale Conley

  • Ryan Ellis

  • Kyle Larson

  • Ryan Newman

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

  • JJ Yeley

Below is when each driver will compete in their respective qualifying nights:

Monday, Jan. 13: Cummins Qualifying Night

  • Chase Briscoe

  • Ryan Ellis

Tuesday, Jan. 14: Warren CAT Qualifying Night:

  • Alex Bowman

  • Kyle Larson

Wednesday, Jan. 15: Hard Rock Casino Qualifying Night:

  • J.J. Yeley

  • Ryan Newman

  • Rico Abreu

Thursday, Jan. 16: John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night:

  • Christopher Bell

  • Cale Conley

Friday, Jan. 17: Vacuworx Global Qualifying night:

  • Justin Allgaier

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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