Chili Bowl 2002: Stewart Nips Doty In Battle Of Mopar
The 25th annual Chili Bowl Nationals will be held Jan. 11-15 at the QuickTrip Center’s Tulsa Expo Raceway.
In celebration of the Silver Anniversary of this prestigious indoor midget race, www.nationalspeedsportnews.com will be publishing the race reports that appeared in the pages of National Speed Sport News for the first 24 runnings of the event.
Beginning with the inaugural event in 1987, race recaps will be posted on a daily basis from Dec. 18 through Jan. 10.
To Win Thrilling Chili Bowl Contest
By DAVE ARGABRIGHT
TULSA, Okla. — Two hours after the checkered flag waved to end the 16th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Chili Bowl, a fan from Texas stopped by at the entrance to the Media Room at the Tulsa Expo Center.
“How did the interviews go?” he asked. “Just fine, was the answer. Pretty good race, wasn’t it?”
“Oh!” he shouted emphatically. “Best one I’ve ever seen.”
And so goes the description of an epic, wheel-to-wheel battle that had fans on their feet for nearly every circuit of the 50-lap event. Tony Stewart was the winner by a wee margin, after an amazing see-saw battle with Kevin Doty, Cory Kruseman, and Critter Malone.
ONE FOR THE AGES
This was one for the ages.
A record 168 cars competed in the four-day event, whittled to Saturday’s 24-car feature race by a long succession of qualifying races. The Wilke-Pak team was formidable, owning the front row with Doty and Tracy Hines.
At the outset, Hines was very strong. He made it look easy through the early going, as a torrid duel involving at least 12 cars was waged behind him. But Hines’s fuel pump drive failed on lap 19, and he helplessly coasted to a stop, out of the race.
“I know you can’t predict things like this,” Hines said later, “but I felt like I had this one won. The car was perfect.”
With Hines’s misfortune Doty took the point, and for the remainder of the race the leader — whomever it would be — would be under intense pressure. With ten laps to go, Doty and Stewart would swap the lead with Kruseman forcing his way into the scenario.
Stewart, in the Keith Kunz Motorsports Mopar-Stealth, was strong on the inside groove, and Doty appeared best on the outside. As the track wore down, Kruseman, driving Andy Bondio’s Worldgate midget, appeared to be gaining strength, and could run well anywhere on the track.
On lap 39 Stewart edged ahead, but four laps later Doty fought back and reclaimed the lead.
In an intense struggle where mere inches would decide the outcome, Doty and Stewart were side-by-side for the final 10 laps. The roar from the delighted crowd actually threatened to drown out the screaming powerplants of the cars.
With just two laps to go, Stewart pushed his front bumper inches ahead of Doty at the stripe. Stewart was then able to pull ahead by a couple of feet at the checkered flag, as Doty edged Kruseman by inches for second.
For nearly five minutes the crowd was in a state of near euphoria, showering the winner with unabated cheers.
“I found a little something in the race track, and that was the difference,” said Stewart. “It just shows how good Kevin [Doty] is, when I got past him he never faltered, didn’t overdrive the race car like most guys would.
“He searched around on the race track and found a way to pick up some time, and man, could he get off [turn] four strong. I knew I had either Critter or Cory behind me, and I didn’t want to take a chance of changing my groove, because they would get by me.
“I finally could put together three or four good laps right there at the end, and the hardest thing was being consistent, staying patient.
“It just means a lot, coming and winning this race. The guys here are some of the best race drivers in the world…there are a lot of guys in this building who have the skill to sit on the front row at the Indianapolis 500 or the Daytona 500 and they would do just fine. These guys haven’t slacked off one bit since I’ve been gone, I can promise you that.”
Doty has participated in every Chili Bowl since the 1987 inaugural event, and is still seeking his first win. He was understandably disappointed following the race.
“I don’t know, maybe after I got by Tony that first time, I probably should have took it down low,” he said quietly. “But after I got back by him, it just felt like my groove was the place to be. Just after that last yellow [on lap 38] the middle groove where I was running started going away a little bit.
“Like Tony said, I got a little smoother and slowed down a little bit, and went faster. It’s hard to say, if we would have got into some lapped traffic, who knows if that would have made a difference.
“I think we put on a good show for the fans, but really, second place sucks.”
Kruseman was philosophical with his third-place finish.
“You can always say ‘Shoulda, woulda, coulda,’ but we got beat by the best tonight,” he said. “There at the last, I saw this big, wide No. 67 [Stewart], and I knew he wasn’t going to make a mistake and open the door for me.”
Malone, who finished fourth, was asked if he was disappointed after having a shot at the win.
“Disappointed! Are you kiddin’ me?” he laughed. “Man, I just finished fourth at the Chili Bowl! Hell, no, I’m not disappointed! I just got beat, and that’s all there is to it. I didn’t do my job very well in the pits, and we were off on the setup just a little bit.
“How much could I have improved the car? Enough to beat those guys, I think. I didn’t expect the track to slick off like it did. But we gave it a good run, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Dave Darland finished fifth after starting 11th.
“I’m pretty happy with our finish,” he said. “We were just too loose, but whenever they rework the track right before the main event like they did tonight, it’s a guessing game on the setup.
“We were good at the beginning, but when the track slicked off that hurt us.”
The remainder of the top 10 were Kasey Kahne, Danny Lasoski, Greg Lueckert, Tony Elliott, and Chad Farmer.
With their choice to use a Mopar engine, the Kunz team collected a $11,000 bonus posted by the manufacturer.
J.J. Yeley was honored with the Rich Vogler Hard Charger Award with his drive from 15th to sixth in the B Main, and 23rd to 11th in the main.
Davey Ray was named Rookie of the Year after his drive from 24th to 12th in the main event.
Feature (50 laps):
- Tony Stewart;
- Kevin Doty;
- Cory Kruseman;
- Critter Malone;
- Dave Darland;
- Kasey Kahne;
- Danny Lasoski;
- Greg Lueckert;
- Tony Elliott;
- Chad Farmer;
- J.J. Yeley;
- Davey Ray;
- Dan Boorse;
- Jason Leffler;
- Richard Griffin;
- Steve Knepper;
- Jeremy Sherman;
- Matt Westfall;
- Troy Rutherford;
- A.J. Fike;
- Aaron Pierce;
- Tracy Hines;
- Jerry Coons, Jr.;
- Shane Hollingsworth.
Wednesday Night Preliminary: Kevin Doty
Thursday Night Preliminary: Tracy Hines
Friday Night Preliminary: Cory Kruseman