By Brandon Paul
There’s something about Rico Abreu and Wednesday nights at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
The two-time Chili Bowl winner threw a slider on polesitter Jason McDougal on Lap 14 and held off all challenges to score his fifth straight Wednesday night preliminary night victory and seventh since 2015. It was also the third straight preliminary night win for Keith Kunz Motorsports at this year’s event.
“Anytime you put yourself in position in this building and this event for Saturday it’s a pretty special moment,” Abreu said. “The biggest thing for me is experiencing those moments with my team and experiencing that sensation of winning, I really get a kick out of that. There’s new team members in the Keith Kunz Motorsports organization this year and to see them in victory lane with me, not just with me but three nights in a row at the Chili Bowl, is cool.” Dougal led the field to the green flag following his impressive sixth-to-first and seventh-to-first pefromances in his heat and qualifier, respectively. “J-Mac” led the opening 13 laps of the 30-lap race before Rico found his opportunity to pounce.
After a caution bunched up the field, Abreu used a slider in turns one and two to move by McDougal for the lead.
It wasn’t over just there, though. A hard-charging Chase Randell found his way to the second position and began challenging Abreu.
Following a caution with six laps to go, Randell threw a slider on Abreu and slid up in front of him to briefly take over the lead. However, his time out front was short lived as contact with the cushion allowed Abreu to slide back underneath him for the lead. In the next turn, Randell nearly lost control of his car and slipped back to sixth.
“I knew based off last night’s race that the top was going to eventually slow down and the bottom was going to start coming in,” Abreu said. “Chase Randell put some pressure on me. I saw him on the bottom off of four and then he slid me so I didn’t really know where he was running.”
Kevin Thomas, Jr. took over the second position and had a final chance at Abreu on a restart with four laps to go, but he wasn’t able to mount a serious challenge. Thomas settled for a runner-up finish and a guaranteed spot in Saturday’s A-Main.
“We felt really good,” Thomas said. “Early, I think we made a little bit of headway on the top and then the bottom kind of got going and Rico got by us. There was probably like a five-lap point in the race where I went backwards and then got back up through there after a couple restarts. Working with the guys, we’ve been changing stuff all day. We were just trying to get the right balance. Everyone is talking about balance; it’s key here.”
Blake Hahn raced his way to a podium finish after starting eighth, while Colby Copeland and McDougal completed the top five.
Preliminary action continues Thursday night with a chance for two more drivers to lock into Saturday’s big show.
All of the preliminary action prior to Saturday’s C-Mains, B-Mains and A-Main will be streamed live on FloRacing.
Saturday’s C-Mains, B-Mains and A-Main will be live on the MAVTV Motorsports Network.
Photo: Rico Abreu, preliminary main Chil Bowl winner.