NASCAR Drivers Ready for Chili Bowl

iRacing - Chili Bowl Nationals

Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson are among the NASCAR drivers entered in this week's Chili Bowl Nationals, with sponsorship from iRacing. (Photo: Keith Kunz/Curb Agajanian)

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Defending winner Christopher Bell is one of the NASCAR drivers among more than 325 entries for the 32nd Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., that begin Tuesday with four nights of qualifying.

Bell book-ended the 2017 season with two big accomplishments in his early racing career by winning the 2017 Chili Bowl and then the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.

"I don't think it gets much better than that," said Bell, who moves to the XFINITY Series full-time with Joe Gibbs Racing this season. "You can't compare the two. One of them is a race and one of them is a championship over the course of a year. But to win both is a dream come true."

Bell, who joins the late Bryan Clauson as the only other driver with a "Golden Driller" trophy in both Shootout Micro and Chili Bowl Midget competition, captured last year's Chili Bowl to become the first Oklahoman to win since Andy Hillenburg in 1994.

"Coming back here as the champion is a whole lot less stressful," Bell said during Monday's press conference. "As a kid growing up in Oklahoma racing micro sprints the Chili Bowl was the biggest race event of the year. I remember coming here as a little kid coming up to Tony (Stewart) and asking for his autograph." 

For the Chili Bowl, Bell will once again race for Keith Kunz/Curb Agajanian and will be a teammate of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson, who will race a car owned by his father. The team, fielding cars for eight drivers including Rico Abreu, is seeking its fourth straight Chili Bowl win. Abreu, who raced full-time in the Truck Series in 2016, won the event in 2015 and 2016.

Larson goes into this year’s Chili Bowl fresh off scoring three wins in midget competition in New Zealand.

"When you look back at my past Chili Bowls is probably when I ran better is when I went to New Zealand to race," Larson said. “After I struggled a little bit last year I definitely wanted to get back to New Zealand to get some laps and get comfortable in a midget. It was nice to go run…to get some wins for the confidence. I always look forward to the Chili Bowl."

Larson will qualify on Tuesday while Bell will be in Thursday's program. Both drivers have won their respective qualifying night three times with Larson grabbing wins in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Bell's three preliminary-night victories came in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Bell and Larson will be sponsored by iRacing, which recently announced it will add Tulsa Expo Raceway - home of the Chili Bowl Nationals - to its inventory of dirt tracks available to iRacing members.

"The fact that we’ll soon be able to run the Chili Bowl virtually is pretty sweet," Larson said. "I can’t wait to run that track whenever I want. What iRacing has done in the past year with its dirt program and what they continue to do is so awesome for our sport."

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is another Monster Energy Series driver entered in this year's Chili Bowl. The two-time Cup Series race winner and two-time XFINITY Series champion will drive again for Clauson-Marshall Racing. He finished 16th last season and has made the A-main five times, with his first coming in 2009.

Kasey Kahne, who will drive the No. 95 in the Monster Energy Series for Leavine Family Racing this season, will make another Chili Bowl appearance - where he's made the A-main seven times with a best finish of sixth in 2002. Kahne will qualify the No. 67Z prepared by his cousin Willie Kahne - with sponsorship from Take 5 Oil Change and Hayes Custom Homes - on Friday.

NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe will also open Chili Bowl competition on Tuesday night. Briscoe, who will be part of an NXS driver development team for Roush Fenway Racing in 2018, finished 22nd in his first Chili Bowl A-main in 2017. Briscoe also finished sixth in the 2017 standings in his Truck Series rookie season including a victory in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. JJ Yeley will qualify on Friday and has three top-five finishes in eight career Chili Bowl A-main appearances.

Alex Bowman, who will take over the No. 88 Monster Energy Series Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in 2018, will also be at the Chili Bowl as an owner. He will field the No. 55 Valvoline ride for C.J. Leary.

MAVTV and Lucas Oil Racing TV will broadcast the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals live on Saturday, starting at 8:30 p.m. (ET).

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