From Bryan Hulbert / chilibowl.com
Landing in Victory Lane on Wednesday night for the seventh time, California’s Rico Abreu captured his fifth win in as many years on Hard Rock Hotel Casino Qualifying Night at the 36th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire.
Before answering any questions, Rico gave a shout-out to injured teammate, Daison Pursley, “First off, I just want to let everyone know we’re thinking about Daison Pursley right now. He’s a big part of our team, and he’s not here but I know he’s watching. We love you, buddy. Keep working hard.”
Keeping Keith Kunz Motorsports undefeated through the first three nights of the 2022 event, the win is No. 34 for Kunz on Tulsa Expo Raceway clay.
“My guys do an unbelieve job on these racecars, and it shows,” stated Rico. “We’ve won three in a row this week, and my car as the race went on just built momentum. It would just shoot off the corner, but at the end, my pace slowed down just so I didn’t make mistakes on the cushion.”
Taking off from the fourth position, Abreu worked to the runner-up spot on Lap 11 after a multi-lap battle with Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Colby Copeland. In pursuit of Jason McDougal, a caution the following lap erased an over one second lead for the Broken Arrow driver. Working top shelf at one end of the track, the No. 97 shot to the lead with turn-four slide job after McDougal changed his line to try and keep Rico at bay.
Pulling away from the race for second, Jason was under fire as seventh starting Chase Randall worked into the picture, and took the spot on Lap 18. Running down Rico under green flag conditions on the hub of the Tulsa Expo Raceway, Chase threw the slide with four laps to run, but too hard into the cushion allowed Abreu room to retake the lead.
Now pursued by Kevin Thomas, Jr. after another caution, the No. 5t held tight of the bottom. Keeping pace with Rico, the run for the lead came on the final lap. Pulling even at the exit of the second turn, Abreu had just enough momentum to clear Thomas to the bottom of the final two turns. Able to protect his lead, Rico won by 0.353-seconds with Blake Hahn third for the third year in a row.
On the final laps, Rico said, “I could sense Kevin [Thomas] behind me and was just kind of waiting to make that last-second move down there. I saw him right at the exit of turn two and was able to get enough launch to clear him and block his run.”
Colby Copeland ended up fourth after running second early on, with Jason McDougal ending up fifth. Getting bit by the cushion, Brad Sweet recovered to a sixth-place finish with Chase Randall slipping back to seventh after his run-in with the cushion. Chase Crum was the night’s hard charger; advancing eight positions to finish eighth. Corey Day and Nick Drake completed the top ten.
Wednesday added 79 more drivers to the 2022 event for 221 checking in so far. The World Wide Technology Raceway Flip Count made it to 23 with everyone able to walk away.
Racing continues Thursday, January 13, 2022, with John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night. The SageNet Center opens at 9:00 A.M. Hot Laps are at 4:00 P.M. with racing at 5:00 P.M. Reserved Seats for Pit Passes are sold at the event and never sell out.
Top 2 advance to Saturday's A-Feature.
A Feature (30 Laps): 1. 97-Rico Abreu; 2. 5T-Kevin Thomas Jr; 3. 52-Blake Hahn; 4. 27W-Colby Copeland; 5. 4B-Jason McDougal; 6. 1R-Brad Sweet; 7. 19A-Chase Randall; 8. 26C-Chance Crum; 9. 47Z-Corey Day; 10. 55D-Nick Drake; 11. M1-Colby Stubblefield; 12. 83-Dominic Gorden; 13. 21S-Karter Sarff; 14. 25V-Billy VanInwegen Jr; 15. 7M-Brody Roa; 16. 21T-Tommy Kunsman; 17. 2W-Tony Bruce Jr; 18. 25K-Taylor Reimer; 19. 17-Tanner Berryhill; 20. 51-RJ Johnson; 21. 1G-Justin Peck; 22. (DNF) 19-Parker Price Miller; 23. (DNF) 4D-Robert Dalby; 24. (DNF) 8K-Jake Neal
Lap Leader(s): Jason McDougal 1-13; Rico Abreu 14-30
Hard Charger: Chance Crum +8
Live coverage can be found on http://www.floracing.com.
For continued updates on the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire, follow the event on Social Media (@cbnationals) and at http://www.chilibowl.com.
(Image Credit: Michael Fry)
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