By: Lee Spencer, NASCAR Senior Writer
There’s no doubt, Christopher Bell had a career year in 2017.
Bell won the Camping World Truck Series title with a tour-high five wins, five poles, 15 top fives and 21 top 10s in 23 races.
But the 23-year-old Norman, Oklahoman started the season by winning his first Golden Driller trophy at the Chili Bowl Nationals,topping more than 365 other entrants at Tulsa Expo Raceway. Bell became the first racer from Oklahoma to pull off the feat since Andy Hillenburg in 1994.
The 2013 USAC champion went on to win 10 of the 13 midget races he entered in 2017— including Turkey Night in Ventura (Calif.) and the Junior Knepper 55 at Du Quoin (Ill.) Bell joined Billy Boat as the only other driver to win both the Chili Bowl and Turkey Night in the same season.
Bell returned to the Sooner State for the holidays. He stayed around long enough to race—and win—the Lucas Oil Tulsa Shootout in a winged outlaw micro sprint car.
With that kind of track record, he'll have everyone in the field gunning for him in this year's Chili Bowl Nationals, with qualifying nights set to begin on Tuesday. That said, what fellow stock car drivers might give him a run for the Driller this week?
Kyle Larson: Larson hasn’t been sitting idle in the off-season. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has been dominating down under in the International Midget Series. Larson, who won three of four races in New Zealand, looks to pick up his first Golden Driller next Saturday. In 2017, Larson, 25, missed the A-Main for the first time in five years, following a mechanical issue in the first C-Feature. His best result was third in 2012. He’ll drive the No. 01 Mike Larson-Keith Kunz-Curb Agajanian entry.
Kasey Kahne: After a year away from the Chili Bowl Nationals, Kasey Kahne returns to Chili Bowl competition — the first of many open-wheel events in 2018 for the driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing team. It will be a family affair for the racer who will compete in the No. 67Z midget prepared by his cousin Willie Kahne. Kahne, 37,has reached the A-Main seven times. His best finish was sixth in 2002.
JJ Yeley: The 2003 USAC Triple Crown winner—and veteran from the stock car side— will pilot the No. 2R MTY Motorsports midget. Yeley, 41, has eight A-Main appearance in the Chili Bowl Nationals and finished a career-best second in 2007. He has nine heat race wins to his credit.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse will continue to campaign with Clauson-Marshall Racing in the No. 17BC midget in honor of the late Bryan Clauson. He has five starts in the A-Main with a career-best ninth-place finish in 2012. Stenhouse, 30, has posted three heat race and two B-Main wins.
Justin Allgaier: Allgaier returns to his dirt roots behind the wheel of the No. 7A Factory Boss Racing midget. The 31-year-old JR Motorsports driver, who finished third in the Xfinity standings, has three A-Main appearances and seven heat race wins. His best result was third in 2007.
Chase Briscoe: Before Briscoe starts his third season in stock cars, the Ford Performance development driver will race the No. 5CB Briscoe Racing midget. The third-generation dirt tracker joined his buddy Bell at Turkey Night, and in the Junior Knepper 55 he looks to continue the competition in the A-Main on Saturday night. Briscoe qualified for his first A-Main last year and finished 22nd.
Rico Abreu: After consecutive Chili Bowl wins in 2015 and 2016, Abreu passed the torch to Bell last January. Abreu ran the full 2016 Camping World Truck Series schedule but only appeared at Eldora last year while concentrating on a variety of open-wheel disciplines from midgets to 410-winged sprint cars. The 2014 USAC midget champ returns to Tulsa in the No. 97 Keith Kunz midget. Abreu has five A-Main starts with two wins, three heat race victories and two B-Main wins.
Tracy Hines: The USAC Triple Crown winner (2000 Silver Crown, 2002 National Sprint Car, 2015 Midget) returns to the Chili Bowl behind the wheel of the No. 24 Bob Parker midget. Hines, who the Golden Driller in 2005, has 14 A-Main appearances, three preliminary night feature wins and six heat race victories. He’s currently the competition director for ThorsSport Racing.
Brad Sweet: Sweet raced for JR Motorsports and Turner Motorsports before returning to World of Outlaws with Kasey Kahne Racing. He’ll drive the No. 63D for Dooling Hayward Motorsports, which recently announced a partnership with Richard Childress Racing. Sweet, 32, has three A-Main starts with a career-high third-place finish in 2013. He has earned two heat race wins.
Tanner Thorson: Thorson, who won the 2016 USAC Midget title and was named the 2017 National Midget Driver of the Year, will be Sweet’s teammate in the No. 63 DHM/RCR midget. Thorson, 21, has transferred to the A-Main for the last three years and has posted a career-best fourth-place finish twice. He has three heat race wins. He has three ARCA starts and finished a career-high 10th at Madison (Wisc.) last year.
AJ Fike: The ARCA and part-time NASCAR driver will drive the No. 2TMark Bush midget. Fike has two A-Main starts and five heat race wins.
Chad Boat: Boat hopes to follow his father Billy’s path to a Chili Bowl win in the No. 84X John Lawson-Tucker-Boat Motorsports midget. He has three A-Main starts with a career-best 10th-pace finish in 2014. Boat has one preliminary night feature win and three heat race victories.
Dillon Welch: Welch will cross over from his duties as a Motor Racing Network turn announcer to drive the No. 99P Chalk Racing Products midget. Welch has three heat race wins and transferred to the A-Main in 2016 to finish 20th.
Tanner Berryhill: Berryhill hails from Bixby, Oklahoma, just south of Tulsa. The NASCAR part-timer will race the No. 17B Tucker-Boat Motorsports midget. Berryhill, 24,won his heat race in 2016.