TULSA, Okla. — Christopher Bell charged from sixth on the grid to win his second straight Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions Tuesday during the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Bell paced himself on his way to the front of the field and finally shot to the bottom just as leader Tanner Thorson bobbled against the cushion coming to complete the 10th of 25 laps.
A daring slide job into the first corner allowed Bell to finish the pass, giving him a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. Bell led the final 15 laps uncontested and won the 13th edition of the Chili Bowl’s all-star race by 4.573 seconds.
In doing so, he became the fourth driver with multiple VIROC triumphs and the second to conquer the race in back-to-back years.
Four-time VIROC winner Sammy Swindell won the race consecutively in 2011 and ‘12.
A monstrous flip by Rico Abreu down the backstretch with 14 to go, just after Bell took the race lead from Thorson, set the Norman, Okla., native up out front and he took full advantage of that fact.
Bell took off on the lap-12 restart and simply drove off into the distance from the chasing McIntosh.
“This place is awesome, man,” said Bell on the winner’s stage. “I haven’t been able to stand in this victory lane in a long time. It’s actually been a year, basically, but my prelim night a year ago in this building is the last time I was up here or in victory lane in a midget. So it’s been really nice to be able to win again and hopefully we can replicate this later in the week.
“I’m really proud to be able to carry the iRacing colors again for … the third or fourth year in a row, so thank you to everyone at iRacing for coming on board and thank you to everyone at Toyota for allowing me to come out and do this.”
Bell was dominant for the second half of the race despite an extremely trick race track, which led to more than a dozen flips during Tuesday night competition, including Abreu’s wild VIROC tumble.
“The track has been really, really gnarly this week. The cushion was extremely tall yesterday in the feature and it was growing fast there in the Race of Champions,” Bell noted. “But that’s what we all love about this place. It changes and challenges us. The bottom has been staying really nice, though, and right there it was pretty beautiful. We could go wherever we wanted to go with this piece.”
While some might say Bell’s VIROC win is a good omen for the remainder of the week, Bell was quick to remind those watching what happened a year ago – when he dominated the VIROC only to finish second to Kyle Larson come Saturday night.
“It felt really good there tonight, but last year I felt really good (in the VIROC) too, and we got beat there at the end,” said Bell. “We just have to make sure that we stay on top of it, stay with the race track and put ourselves in position for when it matters come feature time on Saturday.”
Behind Bell and McIntosh, Larson finished third despite heavy contact near the midpoint of the race with Tanner Thorson, who faded to seventh after starting from the pole of the 14-car field.
Zach Daum crossed fourth and Justin Grant was fifth.
RESULTS: Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions XIII; Tulsa Expo Raceway; Jan. 12, 2021
Qualifying: 1. 97-Rico Abreu, 11.225; 2. 2j-Justin Grant, 11.236; 3. 84x-Christopher Bell, 11.290; 4. 5d-Zach Daum, 11.360; 5. 71k-Cannon McIntosh, 11.393; 6. 01-Kyle Larson, 11.472; 7. 1s-Spencer Bayston, 11.487; 8. 08-Tanner Thorson, 11.489; 9. 89-Chris Windom, 11.582; 10. 21-Daryn Pittman, 11.715; 11. 21h-Brady Bacon, 11.724; 12. 1r-Brad Sweet, 11.807; 13. 87-Aaron Reutzel, 12.039; 14. 3n- Jake Neuman, 12.060.
VIROC XIII (25 laps): 1. 84x-Christopher Bell , 2. 71k-Cannon McIntosh , 3. 01-Kyle Larson , 4. 5d-Zach Daum , 5. 2j-Justin Grant , 6. 21h-Brady Bacon , 7. 08-Tanner Thorson , 8. 1r-Brad Sweet , 9. 21-Daryn Pittman , 10. 87-Aaron Reutzel , 11. 97-Rico Abreu , 12. 3n-Jake Neuman , 13. 1s-Spencer Bayston , 14. 89-Chris Windom .
Lap Leader(s): Spencer Bayston 1, Tanner Thorson 2-3, Cannon McIntosh 4-5, Tanner Thorson 6-10, Christopher Bell 11-25
Hard Charger: #21h – Brady Bacon (+5)
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