John Klein: Quest for Chili Bowl win tests even the best
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, January 11, 2013
1/11/13 at 7:20 AM
Related story: Kevin Swindell takes A main.
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ON MOST WEEKENDS in NASCAR, there may be only a handful of teams capable of winning the race.
It takes top-line equipment, a championship driver and some luck.
It may take even more to win the Chili Bowl Nationals this week in Tulsa.
Instead of 43 entrants, there are 276.
Instead of a half-dozen drivers with championship pedigrees, you have dozens of drivers with championships in various levels of racing.
Finally, on a dirt track that is less than a quarter-mile, the chances of getting caught up in something that has nothing to do with you are very high.
The driver who survives to win the Golden Driller Trophy, given to the winner of the Chili Bowl on Saturday night at the Expo Center, will need a huge dose of luck to go with great equipment and a championship pedigree.
In this field, that includes lots of possibilities.
That's why three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, back in the Chili Bowl field again this year, calls the Golden Driller "one of the most coveted trophies in racing."
The Chili Bowl is in the midst of its 27th annual event at Expo Square, drawing the usual sellout crowds and an all-star list of drivers.
Kyle Larson, who won more than 75 races last year, is one of the hottest young drivers in the sport. He knows this is a wide-open race with a lot of possibilities.
"Realistically, there may be as many as 40 who start the week with a good chance," said Larson. "A lot of things have to go right for you, but there are some guys who have a chance."
If you have the equipment, and the experience to handle the track, then you're in the chase.
Certainly Kevin Swindell has mastered the Chili Bowl.
Swindell has won three straight Chili Bowl titles.
He became the first repeat winner in the Chili Bowl in 2011 and backed it up by winning again last year.
"There are probably 15 to 20 that really have the quality of car you need," said Swindell. "But, the luck factor is really big.
"It is so easy to get caught up in somebody else's mess. You can get caught up in something that had nothing to do with you and it ruins your chances. But, in the end, the cream usually rises to the top."
The cream in the Chili Bowl has usually been named Swindell.
Swindell's father, Sammy Swindell, is a five-time champion and finished second to his son last year.
The fact that there are so many capable race teams at the Chili Bowl is what makes the Swindell dynasty so amazing.
There are so many entries that if a team hits the set-up just right and the driver stays out of trouble it is possible to grab the Golden Driller.
"I'm guessing there are about 20 drivers that really have a legit shot at winning this thing," said Chili Bowl co-founder Emmett Hahn. "That's the biggest difference in the Chili Bowl now from the Chili Bowl 10 years ago. Back then, you might have five or six drivers who had a real chance of winning.
"It is much different. You've got those 20 drivers at the top, and then you might have another 100 drivers that if they hit it exactly right, did everything perfect, they could win here."
There's no question it is tougher to win the Chili Bowl now than at any time in the past.
The specs haven't changed much on the cars over the last 25 years. There have been some technology advances, but the basics of the car remain the same.
The cost of the car, which has gone from about $7,500 in 1987 to about $55,000 these days, has kept the Chili Bowl accessible to a wide-range of racers.
"So, you've got all types out here," said Hahn. "Some obviously have a much better chance than some others, but they are all the same on the track.
"That's why it is so tough. There are so many more good drivers with good cars in the Chili Bowl these days. It used to be you could start in the back and get to the front in the hurry if you were pretty good. Now, it ain't easy to get to the front because those guys in front of you are pretty good, too."
Swindell said the Chili Bowl is "getting tougher and tougher every year."
As a result, the margin for error is getting smaller for the drivers with a realistic chance of taking home the Golden Driller on Saturday night.
You can have the best car. You can be a championship driver. You can pretty much hit the setup perfectly for most of the week. Then, it can be over in an instant.
"Just one little incident can end your week," said Swindell. "You've got to give yourself a chance to win it by staying out of trouble. That's not always easy."
Original Print Headline: Chili Bowl quest tests even the best
Chili Bowl schedule
Friday: Vacuworx Global Qualifying Night
Saturday: Lucas Oil/General Tire Championship Feature Events
Crews hurry toward three wrecked cars Tuesday night during the Chili Bowl Nationals at the Expo Center at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World