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Thorson Makes Powerful Statement in Chili Bowl Prelim

"You could make the case that he was really the best of the prelim winners"


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Tanner Thorson appeared to make the statement on Thursday night that the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals runs through its defending winner.

It’s not just how Thorson looked in the feature, a race he dominated to a clean 30 lap sweep, but how he responded to adversity too. The No. 88 spun early in its eight-lap heat and Thorson immediately drove it back to the front and to the win.

"I thought my prelim night was over at the start of that heat race," Thorson said. "I was kind of just waiting to get hit. Luckily enough I didn’t get hit and I was able to keep going.

It was the only mistake he made on the night.

"I got in there harder than he did apparently," Thorson said. "I figured he would get in there harder than he did apparently; got into the back of him and I spun around. It pissed me off and that probably saved my heat race, and it could have ruined my day, but didn't thankfully."

Because he won the heat, and won his qualifier, he started on the pole of the feature and led every step of the way. On the longest green flag run, Thorson checked out to a huge lead before a caution negated the chance for Emerson Axsom to make up any ground in traffic.

Not that it mattered anyway.

"I want to win, obviously, but traffic here is dangerous and with clean air, I was able to gauge where I need to be better," Axsom said. "Obviously, he was the class of the field and you could make the case that he was really the best of the prelim winners. It’s tough to say, but racing behind him in clean air helped me figure out where need to be better and what we need to fix before Saturday."

Back up a little though -- you could make the case that he was really the best of the prelim winners

And that’s kind of the point here, that anything could happen on Saturday night between the pole shuffle and 55 laps, but Thorson looked like he had a perfect car. It’s not something he subtribes too for what it’s worth.

"I don't know about you," Thorson said looking over to third-place finisher Brady Bacon," but I've never had a perfect car. We sure try like hell but it's hard to get there at certain points. If anyone says they have a perfect car, they're lying to you."

But this is close though right?

"Yeah, I’m no doubt satisfied with it," Thorson said. "But I’m already thinking about how it could be better. Last year, in the prelim when Bell passed me, there was a lot I need to be better. This time, I think there are a little. By no means, did I think I was running away with it."

He was.

"I had no idea where he was behind me, but I felt really good about it, but it can always be better."

Also, consider that throughout its history, winners of the Chili Bowl runs in massive streaks, almost eras of sorts.

Sammy Swindell, three of four from 88-98 and another in 2009
Kevin Swindell, 2010-2013
Rico Abreu, 2015-2016
Christopher Bell, 2017-2019
Kyle Larson, 2020-2021
Tanner Thorson, 2022-???

"I say it all the time, it comes down to having your ducks in a row," Thorson said. "It's all about having momentum. Once you have a good set-up here, those that three guys, they've had cars that had good set-ups and work off those set-ups. I've got the same thing I had last year, and I'm just hoping they work out for a 55-lapper."

Meanwhile, even though Axsom wasn’t able to reel in Thorson, this was a significant accomplishment for the 18-year-old from Franklin, Indiana. In his third Chili Bowl appearance, and following Championship Saturday finishes of C8 and B15, Emerson not only made the main event but has a chance at starting from the pole in it as well.

"Every time I’ve been here, it’s been with a new team, or I’ve made a bonehead move, or something that prevented me," Axsom said. "Today, I’ve learned from those mistakes and had my dad in my corner and he has been since I was 6 years old and made it feel like it was a normal Saturday Midget race.

"That took a lot of pressure off me and just let me drive."

And it’s worth noting that he’s driving the same No. 19 Reinbold Underwood Motorsports entry that Thorson took to Victory Lane last year. The same team, but not the same car, as that was a car built and owned by Thorson.

And then there was Brady Bacon, who made a late charge from outside the top-five to complete the podium with a chance to make another feature in his 18th year of racing in the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.

"They take a ton of cars out of the B, so as long as we don’t do anything too crazy and stay out of trouble I think we’ll be alright," Bacon said. "We’ll take that opportunity to make our car better and try some stuff to get better for the 50 laps later in the night."

Tim Buckwalter and last year's Monday night preliminary winner Tanner Carrick completed the top five.

A Feature (30 Laps): 1. 88-Tanner Thorson[1]; 2. 19T-Emerson Axsom[2]; 3. 21H-Brady Bacon[5]; 4. 29-Tim Buckwalter[9]; 5. 98-Tanner Carrick[11]; 6. 21S-Karter Sarff[3]; 7. 86-Chase Johnson[7]; 8. 87W-Ryan Bernal[17]; 9. 71K-Dominic Gorden[6]; 10. 51B-Joe B Miller[12]; 11. 4C-Cody Jessop[18]; 12. 82-Landon Crawley[10]; 13. 2G-JJ Yeley[22]; 14. 2D-Matt Sherrell[16]; 15. 51J-RJ Johnson[13]; 16. 00-Anton Hernandez[15]; 17. 77W-Joe Wirth[14]; 18. 47W-Dylan Westbrook[21]; 19. 7MF-Chance Morton[8]; 20. 40-Max Adams[23]; 21. 57R-Daniel Robinson[24]; 22. (DNF) 32W-Casey Shuman[20]; 23. (DNF) 3N-Jake Neuman[4]; 24. (DNF) 15D-Andrew Deal[19]

Lap Leader(s): Tanner Thorson 1-30
Hard Charger: Ryan Bernal +9