How the Chili Bowl Could be Decided before the Start

The pole shuffle could determine the results if the track takes rubber early

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It’s the race that very well could decide the race.

The Chili Bowl pole shuffle.

Now in its third year with a four-lap, four-car, four-round format, it’s the series of races that determine the starting lineup for the first 10 positions for the 55-lap main event on Saturday night at the Tulsa Expo Center.

The 10 competitors are those who finished first or second in their preliminary nights this past week – Tanner Carrick, Buddy Kofoid, Rico Abreu, Christopher Bell, Justin Grant, Tyler Courtney, Kyle Larson, Kevin Thomas Jr., Tanner Thorson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The pole shuffle is important because the general consensus is that the race will most likely be won from the first three rows. So two things needed to go right to get there -- a lucky draw to start in a later shuffle and then getting the job done during the mini sprints.

The race winners drew for positions 1-5 and the runner-ups drew for positions 6-10 with Thomas earning the best draw amongst the latter and Grant starting from pole in the final shuffle. The match races will look like this:

Shuffle No. 1 (Two advance)

1. Tanner Thorson
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
3. Kyle Larson
4. Tyler Courtney

Shuffle No. 2 (Two advance)

1. Buddy Kofoid
2. Kevin Thomas Jr.
3. Round 1 winner
4. Round 1 runner-up

Shuffle No. 3 (Two advance)

1. Tanner Carrick
2. Rico Abreu
3. Round 2 winner
4. Round 2 runner-up

Shuffle No. 4 (Two advance)

1. Justin Grant
2. Christopher Bell
3. Round 3 winner
4. Round 3 runner-up

Each time two drivers are eliminated in a shuffle, they are added in reverse order to the top-10 until the entire starting lineup is set with the results of the fourth shuffle deciding the first two rows for the main event.

Christopher Bell is here to tell you why the early track position, and earning it in the pole shuffle, could be the most decisive moment of Championship Saturday.

"I feel like I 150 percent lost the race last year because I started on the second row," Bell said. "At the end of the race, I was arguably the fastest car and the track was narrow. They did a lot of track prep."

Bell said his wins in 2018 and 2019 was on a wider track that encouraged a lot of passing, but that if the track locks down and takes rubber, it will become a track position race.

"Last year, it was taking rubber before the feature," Bell said. "It was a 40-lap hot lap session and at least the top-three, you never passed each other until 10 to go. So, it's nice to start up front and I was very nervous that I didn't start up front for sure."

Bell, by virtue of his victory on Thursday night win and draw can start no worse than fourth in the main event.

Like Bell, Grant can start no worse than fourth but says the pole shuffle may not be as big of a factor as it has been the first three years of its existence because the track has been prepped wide all week.

"The past few years, it has been important, because it stayed locked down for a long time," Grant said. "The track doesn't seem to have near the same grip as in years past. It seems to swing quicker, so I don't know that it's going to be as crucial as in years past, but it's certainly easier to stay in front of someone than it is to go by them."

Meanwhile, there’s Tanner Thorson, already starting on the pole of the first shuffle and not feeling particularly pressured to start from the front row in the main event. Thorson started from the pole in 2020 and felt like a sitting duck right from the start.

He didn’t like it and actually wants to start the race on kill mode, hopefully staring on the second row.

"I don't like starting third, but I like it better than the front row," Thorson said. "I've lost more races starting on the front row than I have starting third row, fourth row."

Ultimately, Thorson said he prefers to chase rather than be chased.

"It's not easy, but I want to chase Bell and Larson," Thorson said. "I want to line up behind them and see where I stack up. When I was leading my prelim, I felt like a sitting duck and everyone is jumping all over you on the restarts."

This will be the pole shuffle debut for both Thomas and Stenhouse.

"I’m excited to run it," Stenhouse said. "You still have to be conservative because you don’t want to junk your car running for an extra spot or two. You can definitely win from anywhere in the top-10, so you don’t want to risk doing something reckless."

Stenhouse pointed to the track position Grant’s pole provided him last year for a reason anyone would want to start on the front row.

"You can kind of conserve your car early, save your stuff and have enough to hang it out at the end," Stenhouse said. "So, I think it's important, especially if it turns into a track where it's tough to pass."