TULSA, Okla. — Kasey Kahne, competing in only his second Chili Bowl Midget Nationals event in the last eight years, couldn’t match the drivers who regularly compete in those cars and will have to race his way into the main event Saturday night at the Tulsa Expo Center.
Justin Grant, who finished third in the Chili Bowl last year, won the main qualifying race Friday night, followed by the 2017 U.S. Auto Club Midget national champion Spencer Bayston. Andrew Felker picked up the third and final automatic spot Friday for the 24-driver main event on the quarter-mile dirt oval Saturday.
With 12 drivers set in the main event through the four qualifying nights of racing, the remaining 346 drivers entered will try to race their way in through a series of heat races earlier Saturday. Among those who have qualified for the 55-lap main event are three drivers with NASCAR ties — NASCAR Cup star Kyle Larson, 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Christopher Bell (the defending Chili Bowl champion) and former truck series driver and two-time Chili Bowl champion Rico Abreu.
Two 2017 NASCAR Cup playoff drivers will try to race their way in — Kahne, who finished fifth Friday, will have to finish in the top-six of his heat race to advance to the main event. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 11th on Friday, will have to finish in the top six in two heats Saturday to advance.
“If you can win [that heat], you can start 13th or 14th, which is pretty good — if you’re good, you can pass,” Kahne said. “I kind of chose the top [lane in the race Friday] and it didn’t work out. … It was on me. The car is good for transferring for sure.”
NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers (and former Cup racers) JJ Yeley and Justin Allgaier also will have to race their way in, with Yeley in a similar position as Kahne and Allgaier in a similar position as Stenhouse.