From Practice Flip To Thursday Glory For Bayston

Bayston

Spencer Bayston (center) won Thursday's Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary feature over Tanner Thorson (right) and Chase Johnson (left). (Brian Walker photo)

TULSA, Okla. – After nine previous preliminary night attempts at the Chili Bowl Nationals powered by NOS Energy Drink fell flat, Spencer Bayston finally hit on the winning formula Thursday night.

Bayston and RMS Racing put together as close to a perfect performance during Victory Fuel Qualifying Night at the SageNet Center as any combination to date during the week. The Lebanon, Ind., native won his heat race, used a strong qualifier to secure the feature pole, and led all 30 laps in dominating fashion.

Despite a restart with six laps left, Bayston easily pulled away from 2022 Chili Bowl winner Tanner Thorson to win his first Chili Bowl preliminary night feature by 1.459 seconds.

Thursday night’s win locks Bayston into his sixth career championship feature at the Chili Bowl Nationals. It will mark Bayston’s fourth appearance in the 55-lap finale over the past five years.

“Going off the front row was a huge help tonight,” Bayston noted after the race. “I’m not always a fan of starting up front because you can’t see what’s happening behind you … but tonight, it worked out in my favor.

“This feels really, really good. The Race of Champions win was special last year, but it’s not a preliminary night,” he added. “To put together three good performances isn’t easy. We’ll kick back and relax tomorrow and get ready for race day. … When it comes to the A-main on Saturday, everyone in the field is very competitive, so just getting the boost to start near the front of the pack is really crucial.”

Perhaps the most notable thing about Bayston’s victory was the fact that his week could have easily been over before it started, after a flip during the scheduled practice day on Sunday.

Luckily, Bayston’s car wasn’t seriously damaged, and his Matt Estep-led crew put a rocketship on the racetrack from that point on.

“When I first landed, I was obviously worried that our Sage Fruit car was going to be folded up like a piece of paper,” recalled Bayston. “But really, it turned out to be just a couple nicks that they were able to buff out with the help of everyone at RMS [Racing].

“She was as good as she needed to be tonight, that’s for sure.”

After starting from the top spot, Bayston checked out from the remainder of the 24-car field almost immediately, opening up a two-second lead by lap seven and going unchallenged the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, all eyes were on two-time Chili Bowl champion Kyle Larson, who was attempting to lock into the Saturday finale through his prelim night but had to come from a C-main just to make the 30-lap Thursday headliner.

Larson, who flipped in his heat race but rallied for a fifth-place finish that ultimately set him back the rest of the night, eventually started 20th in the main event after running through Thursday’s alphabet soup.

He was mired in traffic, however, only able to climb up to 15th by lap 10 as dirt late model superstar Ricky Thornton Jr. and Thorson began to set up a duel for the second and final lock-in position.

Thorson lurked in wait behind Thornton through the halfway point, then made his move on lap 18, using a turn-four slide job to clear Thornton for the runner-up spot before winding his car up on the high side of turn one and taking off.

All that allowed Bayston to open up his lead margin to three seconds, and the Sage Fruit No. 1s appeared untouchable before Larson – who had worked his way up to 11th – caught the frontstretch cushion and biked into an end-over-end flip. His car came to rest near the wall, a mangled front end clearly evident.

Though Larson’s Keith Kunz Motorsports crew attempted to look his car over in the work area, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion – who is committed to Saturday’s Wild West Shootout activities at Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park in a dirt late model – knew any effort to return was futile. His week was over.

The yellow set up the only restart of the feature, with Bayston leading Thorson and a hard-charging Karter Sarff, the reigning POWRi midget champion who was looking to lock Chase Briscoe Racing into the big show.

Unfortunately for Sarff, his one attempt to get past Thorson for second led to him jumping the cushion in turn one after the final restart, costing him five spots and any hope of a top-two prelim night finish.

That left Bayston and Thorson alone out front, with past Saturday feature starter Chase Johnson rising to third in the final two circuits to put himself solidly at the front of a B-main heading into Saturday.

C.J. Leary was fourth in the third Alex Bowman Racing entry to run this week, followed by USAC star Brady Bacon and Pennsylvania shoe Tim Buckwalter. Thornton faded to seventh at the finish.

Sarff hung on for eighth, with Ryan Bernal and Wisconsin rookie Parker Jones closing the top 10.

While Bayston may have made winning the feature look easy, the past USAC National Midget Series champion tipped that Thursday’s Tulsa Expo Raceway surface was a tricky one to navigate.

“That track was really, really technical there at the end. The bottom was starting to burn up and I could feel myself slowing down,” Bayston explained. “I could see people running up [against the cushion], but on the screen, I couldn’t really find anyone [specific] that was really running the top and I wasn’t sure who was behind me.

“I didn’t really need to see the caution; I didn’t know how close anyone was, but I never saw or felt any pressure and we were just able to get back into a rhythm for the last few laps.”

Brad Mosen, Kyle Spence, Bayston, Leary, Gavan Boschele, Thornton, Thorson, and Andrew Deal kicked off Thursday’s action by winning their respective eight-lap heat races.

Max Adams and Larson topped the twin 12-lap C-Features, while Sarff, Thorson, Leary, and Caden Sarale each won 10-lap Team Toyota Qualifiers. Spence and Eddie Tafoya Jr. led the transfers out of the 15-lap B-Features prior to the nightcap.

Action during the 38th Chili Bowl Nationals powered by NOS Energy Drink continues Friday with Hard Rock Casino Qualifying Night. Every lap throughout the week can be streamed live via FloRacing.

38th Chili Bowl Nationals; Victory Fuel Qualifying Night; Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Raceway; Jan. 11, 2024

OERB Heat #1 (8 laps): 1. Brad Mosen [2], 2. Chase Johnson [7], 3. Matt Sherrell [5], 4. Daniel Robinson [9], 5. Cole Schroeder [10], 6. Parker Jones [8], 7. Tom Dunkel [3], 8. Kade Morton [6], 9. Sean McClelland [4], 10. Tim Kent [1].

OERB Heat #2 (8 laps): 1. Kyle Spence [1], 2. Eddie Tafoya Jr. [2], 3. Whit Gastineau [3], 4. Taylor Ferns [5], 5. Rodney Westhafer [8], 6. Jeff Stasa [7], 7. Zac Millikin [4], 8. Tom Harris [6], 9. Joe Boyles (DNS)

OERB Heat #3 (8 laps): 1. Spencer Bayston [9], 2. Joe Walker [1], 3. Joey Wirth [2], 4. Dylan Menz [7], 5. Frank Beck III [5], 6. Jacob Harris [8], 7. Miles Doherty [3], 8. Dalton Camfield [4], 9. Corey Brink [6].

OERB Heat #4 (8 laps): 1. C.J. Leary [1], 2. Caden Sarale [4], 3. Ethan Mitchell [8], 4. Tim Buckwalter [7], 5. Kyle Larson [5], 6. Casey Shuman [6], 7. Chris Townsend [9], 8. Shayle Bade [3], 9. Joe Perry [2].

OERB Heat #5 (8 laps): 1. Gavan Boschele [3], 2. Ryan Bernal [9], 3. Kenney Johnson [6], 4. Austin Nigh [2], 5. A.J. Johnson [8], 6. Ryan Bickett [4], 7. Scott Lawrence [7], 8. Brian Harvey [5], 9. Noah Harris [1].

OERB Heat #6 (8 laps): 1. Ricky Thornton Jr. [5], 2. Jesse Love [3], 3. Cameron Hagin [1], 4. Jeffrey Newell [4], 5. Ryan Padgett [7], 6. Chance Hull [9], 7. Cody Beard [2], 8. J.J. Yeley [6], 9. Isaiah Vasquez [8].

OERB Heat #7 (8 laps): 1. Tanner Thorson [2], 2. Karter Sarff [3], 3. Ryder Laplante [1], 4. Lane Goodman [5], 5. Matt Westfall [6], 6. Cody Trammell [8], 7. Max Adams [9], 8. Zach Blurton [7], 9. Matt Rossi [4].

OERB Heat #8 (8 laps): 1. Andrew Deal [3], 2. Ashton Torgerson [2], 3. Brady Bacon [8], 4. Johnny Kent [4], 5. Landon Crawley [7], 6. Josh Hanna [5], 7. Josh Baughman [6], 8. J.D. Black [1], 9. Mike Woodruff (DNS).

Smiley’s Racing Products C-Feature #1 (12 laps, top four transfer): 1. Max Adams [4], 2. Jeff Stasa [3], 3. Tom Harris [10], 4. Frank Beck III [2] / 5. Sean McClelland [14], 6. Josh Hanna [5], 7. Jacob Harris [1], 8. Shayle Bade [12], 9. Zach Blurton [7], 10. Miles Doherty [8], 11. Brian Harvey [9], 12. Scott Lawrence [6], 13. Tim Kent [13], 14. Joe Perry [11], 15. J.D. Black (DNS), 16. Joe Boyles (DNS), 17. Zac Millikin (DNS).

Smiley’s Racing Products C-Feature #2 (12 laps, top four transfer): 1. Kyle Larson [2], 2. Casey Shuman [3], 3. Cody Trammell [1], 4. J.J. Yeley [9] / 5. Ryan Bickett [4], 6. Josh Baughman [5], 7. Noah Harris [13], 8. Tom Dunkel [6], 9. Dalton Camfield [10], 10. Cody Beard [7], 11. Matt Rossi [12], 12. Kade Morton [8], 13. Isaiah Vasquez [11], 14. Mike Woodruff (DNS), 15. Chris Townsend (DNS), 16. Corey Brink (DNS).

Team Toyota Qualifier #1 (10 laps): 1. Karter Sarff [2], 2. Tim Buckwalter [1], 3. Spencer Bayston [6], 4. Ethan Mitchell [5], 5. Kenney Johnson [3], 6. Johnny Kent [10], 7. Brad Mosen [4], 8. Ryan Padgett [9], 9. Taylor Ferns [8], 10. Rodney Westhafer [7].

Team Toyota Qualifier #2 (10 laps): 1. Tanner Thorson [4], 2. Brady Bacon [5], 3. Eddie Tafoya Jr. [1], 4. Kyle Spence [3], 5. Ryan Bernal [6], 6. Matt Westfall [10], 7. Landon Crawley [9], 8. Cole Schroeder [2], 9. A.J. Johnson [7], 10. Lane Goodman [8].

Team Toyota Qualifier #3 (10 laps): 1. C.J. Leary [3], 2. Ashton Torgerson [1], 3. Ricky Thornton Jr. [6], 4. Matt Sherrell [2], 5. Gavan Boschele [5], 6. Daniel Robinson [4], 7. Whit Gastineau [7], 8. Cameron Hagin [8], 9. Austin Nigh [9], 10. Chance Hull (DNS).

Team Toyota Qualifier #4 (10 laps): 1. Caden Sarale [4], 2. Chase Johnson [6], 3. Parker Jones [9], 4. Jeffrey Newell [10], 5. Andrew Deal [5], 6. Ryder Laplante [8], 7. Joe Walker [1], 8. Joey Wirth [7], 9. Dylan Menz [2], 10. Jesse Love [3].

WWTR B-Feature #1 (15 laps, top four transfer): 1. Kyle Spence [1], 2. Matt Sherrell [2], 3. Matt Westfall [4], 4. Lane Goodman [12] / 5. Ryder Laplante [5], 6. Max Adams [13], 7. Cole Schroeder [7], 8. Cameron Hagin [8], 9. Tom Harris [15], 10. Taylor Ferns [10], 11. Whit Gastineau [6], 12. Austin Nigh [11], 13. Frank Beck III [16], 14. Jeff Stasa [14], 15. Daniel Robinson [3], 16. A.J. Johnson [9].

WWTR B-Feature #2 (15 laps, top four transfer): 1. Eddie Tafoya Jr. [1], 2. Kyle Larson [11], 3. Kenney Johnson [2], 4. Landon Crawley [5] / 5. Jesse Love [10], 6. Ryan Padgett [7], 7. Johnny Kent [3], 8. Casey Shuman [14], 9. J.J. Yeley [15], 10. Chance Hull [12], 11. Cody Trammell [13], 12. Rodney Westhafer [9], 13. Brad Mosen [4], 14. Joe Walker [6], 15. Joey Wirth [8], 16. Dylan Menz (DNS).

Victory Fuel A-Feature (30 laps): 1. 1s-Spencer Bayston [1], 2. 88-Tanner Thorson [4], 3. 31b-Chase Johnson [2], 4. 55v-C.J. Leary [7], 5. 21h-Brady Bacon [5], 6. 29-Tim Buckwalter [12], 7. 19r-Ricky Thornton Jr. [3], 8. 5cb-Karter Sarff [9], 9. 87w-Ryan Bernal [8], 10. 3j-Parker Jones [11], 11. 02-Ashton Torgerson [13], 12. 54-Matt Westfall [21], 13. 2d-Matt Sherrell [19], 14. 9u-Kyle Spence [17], 15. 5g-Gavan Boschele [15], 16. 14t-Caden Sarale [6], 17. 14f-Jeffrey Newell [14], 18. 10j-Lane Goodman [23], 19. 19m-Ethan Mitchell [10], 20. 7c-Landon Crawley [24], 21. 15d-Andrew Deal [16], 22. 73c-Eddie Tafoya Jr. [18], 23. 46-Kenney Johnson [22], 24. 98k-Kyle Larson [20].

Lap Leader(s): Spencer Bayston 1-30.

Hard Charger: 54-Matt Westfall (+9)

High Points: 1s-Spencer Bayston, 241

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