NASCAR history in the Chili Bowl

BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 DC Solar Chevrolet, leads Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 17, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 DC Solar Chevrolet, leads Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 17, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

We’ve made it through the holidays, which means it is almost time for NASCAR racing. While some say that the kickoff to the racing season is the Rolex 24 at Daytona, others say the Chili Bowl Nationals, the Super Bowl of midget racing, is the beginning.

This weekend marks the 34th running of the Chili Bowl Nationals at the Tulsa Expo Center, and once again, a star-studded lineup, including NASCAR Cup Series stars Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell (the three-time consecutive and defending winner of the event), J.J. Yeley, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Xfinity drivers Chase Briscoe and Justin Allgaier, former Xfinity and Truck Series driver and defending World of Outlaws Sprint Car champion Brad Sweet as well as former NASCAR drivers such as Cale Conley, Tanner Thorson, Tanner Berryhill and Rico Abreu are also set to compete.

We’re going to take a look at some history of the Chili Bowl that has featured NASCAR drivers making it into the A-Main.

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1990s: The beginning of NASCAR invaders

After three years of the Chili Bowl, the first NASCAR stars joined in 1990, with one current star and one future star. Ken Schrader started in the A-Main and finished in ninth place. Jeff Gordon, before becoming a NASCAR sensation, started his only Chili Bowl, finishing in 16th. Schrader again competed from 1992 through 1994, finishing in seventh in 1992 and then DNFing in his final two starts.

The mid-1990s saw three more future Cup Series stars take the green flag: Dave Blaney, Tony Stewart and Kenny Irwin Jr. Blaney, a USAC Silver Crown champion, won in 1993 before finishing in fourth and third place in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

Stewart’s Chili Bowl career got off to a mediocre start, as he finished in 13th place in 1993, eighth in 1994 and 11th in 1995. Irwin started well to finish in fourth in 1994 before finishing in 21st in 1996 in his final Chili Bowl before moving to NASCAR full-time in 1997.

In the late 1990s, Jason Leffler began his racing career in midget cars. He finished in 18th place in 1997 before his best finish of second in 1998. Yeley also started racing in the Chili Bowl in 1999 following an appearance in the Indy 500 in 1998, finishing in ninth.

2000s: Stewart wins, Kahne arrives

In 2001, Kasey Kahne began his professional racing career, but it didn’t start well, as he finished in 22nd place in the Chili Bowl. Kahne competed in the race several times throughout this decade, with his best finish being sixth in 2002.

That same year, Stewart returned to the Chili Bowl after making a full transition from IndyCar to NASCAR, winning to become the first and only active NASCAR Cup Series driver to win this race. He went on to win in 2007 as well.

Yeley started to improve, finishing in third place in 2004 before making his Cup Series debut, second in 2007 as he was getting ready to race his second full-time Cup Series season and fifth in 2009.

New stars also began to show up. Josh Wise, one of the backmarkers for a few years, started competing in the race in 2004, finishing in 16th place, but he ended up with a fifth place finish in 2006.

Allgaier made his A-Main debut after his first season in ARCA, finishing in third place behind Stewart and Yeley, but he returned in 2009 to finish in 20th. Cole Whitt started in the final two Chili Bowls of the decade, finishing in 13th place in 2008 before improving to eighth in 2009. Stenhouse also started his first Chili Bowl in 2009, finishing in 13th.

2010s: The NASCAR Raid as big as it has been

The early 2010s had numerous NASCAR stars racing. 2010 featured the beginning of Kyle Larson, racing in his first A-Main at the age of 17 and finishing in 10th place.

The next three years featured several NASCAR stars, with Larson, Bryan Clauson, Sweet, Stenhouse, Stewart, Abreu and Yeley. But they couldn’t beat the Swindell family. Kevin Swindell, who made some Xfinity starts from 2011 to 2013, won every year from 2010 to 2013 with father “Slammin'” Sammy Swindell finishing runner-up from 2011 to 2013.

That dynasty ended in 2014 when Clauson beat Kevin for his first Chili Bowl title. That same race featured the debut of Bell, who finished in third place.

In recent years, Abreu was able to win in 2015 and 2016 in his rise to fame while he was starting to race stock cars at the lower level. From 2017 to 2019, Bell has been the winner, and he has a chance at winning for the fourth consecutive year entering the new decade, which would tie Kevin Swindell’s streak.

It is crazy that Larson has attempted this race in eight of the last 10 years but hasn’t yet won it. But he has come close in the last two. He led in 2018 but blew up, and in 2019, he had one of the dominant cars, led at the white flag but lost to Bell in a close finish.

Next. Top 10 NASCAR drivers of all-time. dark

The Chili Bowl gets bigger and better every year, and fans, including several NASCAR fans, are looking forward to packing the Tulsa Expo Center. Racing begins today, with championship night on Saturday, January 18. The racing is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. ET. On television, fans can see it on MAVTV beginning at 8:30 pm ET.