Chili Bowl Champ – Rico, Rico, Rico!

Lonnie Wheatley, TULSA, Okla. (January 17, 2015) – Rico Abreu reigned supreme in Tulsa this weekend, capping it off by capturing his first Golden Driller in Saturday night’s 29th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals finale at Tulsa Expo Raceway.

The Rutherford, CA, racer slid past defending race champ Bryan Clauson on the 27th round then kept a closing Kevin Swindell at bay in the closing laps to park the Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota-powered Abreu Vineyards No. 67 in victory lane before a capacity crowd that enthusiastically chanted, “Rico, Rico, Rico!”

“It’s unbelievable, it’s a dream come true, it’s just unreal,” accurately summed it up for Abreu after besting a record field of 326 competitors to add a Chili Bowl title to the résumé after capturing a Belleville Midget Nationals crown last summer.  It was also the first Chili Bowl triumph for car owner Keith Kunz since Tony Stewart first garnered Tulsa glory in 2002.

Running fifth in the early going, Abreu made his way past Andrew Deal after a lap 12 restart as Clauson paced the field ahead of Jerry Coons, Jr. and Kyle Larson.

Abreu moved to third when Larson looped it in turn two with 15 laps in the books and then took second from Coons, Jr., on the 20th round.

After Christopher Bell spun in turn four and was forced pitside after 22 laps, Abreu turned up the heat on Clauson before racing by for the lead on the 27th round.

Clauson battled back with Daryn Pittman joining in the mix to make for a three-way battle for the point as they worked through traffic.   The epic battle came to a premature end though with 37 laps down when the caution lights flickered for a turn one tangle and then Pittman and Clauson got tangled up in turn four.

Chad Boat was next in line to try to take on Abreu, only to get upside down in turn two on the 39th lap after the cushion launched him into Sammy Swindell, who nearly ran into disaster one lap later when charging son Kevin Swindell turned him sideways on the backstretch.

Darkhorse Andrew Deal was on Abreu’s tailtank after the race’s final caution with 15 laps to go but ran afoul of a tricky cushion in turns one and two to open the door for Kevin Swindell.

Kevin Swindell closed in on Abreu in traffic in the final rounds but Abreu was flawless in putting the win away.

ricodonuts“You just have to make all those laps count, the cushion was pretty treacherous and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t let it get away,” Abreu said.

Four-time Chili Bowl champ Kevin Swindell settled for second after rallying back through the field after a six-car tangle twelve laps into the race that sent him tailback.

“To restart at the rear and get through a field like this is pretty remarkable,” Swindell said afterward. “We could probably have six of these now if it weren’t for circumstance the last couple of years.”

Damion Gardner, a past Chili Bowl champion as well, earned Hard Charger honors by racing from 22nd to third. Tanner Thorson climbed from 18th to fourth with Sammy Swindell rounding out the top five.

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(Photos courtesy of Dylan Duvall)