TULSA, Okla. — Rico Abreu continued his dominance of Hard Rock Casino Qualifying Night at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals with his seventh victory in the last eight years Wednesday evening inside the Tulsa Expo Center.
It was the third straight preliminary-night feature victory for Keith Kunz Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, which topped Monday’s feature with Tanner Carrick and Tuesday’s feature with Buddy Kofoid.
“It got pretty technical as the cushion got more and more defined and a little bit slicker,” Abreu said. “It just became a little more difficult to hit my marks and I really had to focus on minimizing my mistakes, which slowed my pace down a little bit.”
Unlike some of his past Wednesday night performances where the two-time Chili Bowl champion drove away from the field, Abreu had his work cut out for him during the 30-lap feature around the quarter-mile temporary dirt oval.
Jason McDougal started from the pole alongside Colby Copeland, with Abreu lining up third. McDougal darted out into the lead on the opening lap, with Abreu fading to fourth behind McDougal, Copeland and Kevin Thomas Jr.
The front of the field stayed that way until Jake Neal flipped his No. 8k midget after seven laps were complete, leading to the first restart of the race. McDougal initially held serve on the restart as Copeland, Thomas and Abreu waged a war for second.
Abreu first dispatched Thomas on lap nine before slipping past Copeland two laps later to take second. The caution flag waved again two laps later when Parker-Price Miller stopped on the track.
When racing resumed Abreu saw his chance, diving low under McDougal to snatch the lead away with a wicked slider. McDougal tried to counter, but he soon found himself trying to fend off a challenge from 19-year-old Chase Randall.
Randall made his way around McDougal for second on lap 18 and set off in pursuit of Abreu, who by then had built a solid lead. Randall got his chance to attack when the caution flag waved with six laps left, allowing him to close up to the bumper of Abreu.
Abreu stuck to his guns on the top, with Randall taking the shorter route around the bottom when the green flag waved. It nearly paid off for Randall, who pulled clear of Abreu at one point on lap 26 only to clip the cushion and give the lead right back to Abreu.
Randall tried to pick up the pursuit of Abreu, but he caught the cushion again and faded back to sixth. A flip by Taylor Reimer with four laps left set up another restart, this time with Thomas lining up second.
“Chase Randall put some pressure on me. I saw him on the bottom off of (turn) four and then he slid me,” Abreu said. “I didn’t really know where he was running. That cushion, if you slide to it fast it can be difficult to get off of it.”
Abreu appeared to have the race under control during the restart, but coming out of turn four on the penultimate lap he clipped the cushion and lost much of his speed. That allowed Thomas, who was glued to the bottom, to get alongside him through turns one and two.
With the momentum from the top on his side, Abreu was able to get ahead of Thomas and dove to the bottom in turns three and four to protect his position. He ultimately beat Thomas to the finish by .353 seconds.
“Anytime you put yourself in position in this building, in this event, for Saturday it’s pretty special,” said Abreu, who now turns his attention to Saturday’s pole shuffle prior to the 55-lap finale.
Thomas’ runner-up finish locked him into his second Chili Bowl finale. He previously qualified for the main event in 2018, when he finished ninth.
“Right there at the end it was pretty much just a very technical curb and just the short way around the race track,” Thomas said. “Everybody kind of gave up on the bottom with 12 to go or so and once they did that I just committed to the bottom hoping that it would slow down.”
Reigning Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series champion Blake Hahn came from sixth to finish third, followed by Copeland and McDougal.
For complete results, click below.