(Adam Mollenkopf Photo) Story presented by POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League
TULSA, OKLA. (January 16, 2019) – On Wednesday night, Rico Abreu of St. Helena, Calif. became only the fifth driver in the 34 year history of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals to record five career preliminary feature wins. It took a chaotic 30-lapper and an intense mid-race affair with Brad Sweet to get the job done. Abreu, a two-time Chili Bowl champ, finally surpassed Sweet and led the last 16 laps as he punched his ticket to Saturday’s main event with the Keith Kunz Motorsports, Safelite No. 97 Bullet/Toyota.
Earning the pole position, however, was Sweet, who ramped up his preliminary effort with 7th-to-2nd heat and a 6th-to-2nd qualifier aboard the RMS Racing, Envirofab No. 1R. Jumping to the early lead, the reigning World of Outlaws Sprint Car champion shot straight to the bottom as Abreu had to quickly defend second from Ronnie Gardner.
The mind games quickly started to pan out as Sweet stayed committed to the low line early on, while Abreu tested the topside of turns one and two. He found quite the drive down the backstretch each time, but the momentum never carried through turns three and four as that side had yet to come. For several laps, Abreu bided his time as the laps clicked off and the track came in.
Sweet’s move to the top soon gave Abreu the opportunity he patiently waited for. Lap 11 crossed the strip and Rico bolted to the bottom, setting up for a turn one slider on Sweet. It was executed perfect, but Sweet saw it coming, checked up and crossed him over. From there, the battle was only beginning though.
Approaching the halfway point and reaching lap traffic, Abreu and Sweet went back-and-forth swapping the lead, hitting the bottom, sliding each other, blasting the top, and thrilling every fan inside the Expo. The incredible action was halted on lap 16 when third-running Ronnie Gardner spun it around while trying to work through lap traffic, handing Colby Copeland the podium position.
A shocking restart saw Copeland master the bottom of turns one and two to pull by Sweet down the backstretch. Realizing his run, Copeland darted high and went to block Sweet’s run to the cushion, furthermore fluttering the No. 1R and sending him falling to sixth. From there, Chase Johnson and David Gravel entered the picture, taking it three-wide on a slider against Copeland for the runner-up spot.
Several laps later, Sweet came recovering back to the front as he and Blake Hahn split Johnson to take 3rd and 4th with seven to go. On the next restart with seven to go, Sweet found his rhythm and stormed by Hahn, then Copeland momentarily, to take back second. Copeland countered, however, and then a slider from Hahn found the front end of Sweet through turn four, causing the No. 1R to go up-and-over ending his night.
On the final restart, it was all Abreu; as Rico returned to victory lane for the third consecutive year on his preliminary night and the fifth time in his career. He secured a spot in Saturday’s 55-lap main event with Colby Copeland, who finished second aboard the Matt Wood Racing, NOS Energy Drink No. 27W Spike/SR-11.
Blake Hahn came up with a close third-place run, Chase Johnson brought it home in fourth and Sammy Swindell rounded out the top five.
A-Main (30 Laps): 1. 97-Rico Abreu; 2. 27W-Colby Copeland; 3. 52-Blake Hahn; 4. 25C-Chase Johnson; 5. 1-Sammy Swindell; 6. 91T-Tyler Thomas; 7. 76G-David Gravel; 8. 9-Tim McCreadie; 9. 73T-Jake Swanson; 10. 84-Giovanni Scelzi; 11. 2G-JJ Yeley; 12. 67J-Chase Jones; 13. 97K-Tom Harris; 14. 57D-Daniel Robinson; 15. 14-Jesse Colwell; 16. 14S-Clinton Boyles; 17. 71R-Robby Josett; 18. 16C-David Camfield Jr; 19. 1R-Brad Sweet; 20. 45X-Parker Price Miller; 21. 6N-Ryan Newman; 22. 08K-Karsyn Elledge; 23. 88N-DJ Netto; 24. 68-Ronnie Gardner