NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers continued their challenge of a deep and experienced midget racing field as the 34th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl raced toward Saturday’s finals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
One night after Santino Ferrucci finished fifth in a C-Main qualifying race, James Davison was 10th in a similar race Thursday at Tulsa Expo Raceway. Davison was poised to finish higher but was bumped from behind in the last corner of the final lap.
Conor Daly is scheduled to race Friday night. All of the record 360 entered drivers will be slotted into stepladder races Saturday.
Ferrucci, coming off a successful 2019 rookie campaign with Dale Coyne Racing, and Davison, a five-time Indianapolis 500 starter, are making their dirt-track racing debuts this week. They were given only a handful of practice laps on this quarter-mile indoor track before their first heat races.
Ferrucci started his heat race on the front row alongside five-time Chili Bowl champion and dirt-track legend, Sammy Swindell. Davison was one of 73 drivers competing Thursday, and the night was won by NASCAR Cup Series rookie Christopher Bell, the three-time-reigning champion of this prestigious event.
The driver contingent competing in this event encompass 40 states and six countries. Among them are seven former Chili Bowl champions, plus NASCAR Cup standouts Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman. Larson, Bell and Rico Abreu won their respective nights this week.
“For Santino and I, this is Day 1 in a midget and racing on dirt, and we only got (a few) minutes of practice prior to our heat races,” said Davison, a native of Melbourne, Australia who plans to compete in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 this season. “We’re having to figure everything out at the Super Bowl of dirt racing, and it’s obviously not an ideal, textbook situation.
“But we’ve at least had the (guts) to sign up and do this and not care if we look bad.”
Daly, who will compete on INDYCAR’s road and street circuits this year in the No. 20 Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing and in a third team entry in the Indianapolis 500, is competing in the Chili Bowl for the second time. Ferrucci and Davison have seen the draw to competing in Tulsa.
“It’s a blast and I want to get good at it, and the only way that’s going to happen is by doing it more,” Davison said. “I’m up for any challenge, and I want to get good at this.”
Added Ferrucci: “I don’t really care how I do; I came here to have fun, stay clean and have a blast. I want to come back and do it again next year.”
Ferrucci, Daly and Davison are driving with help from David Byrd, whose inspiration for supporting talented open-wheel drivers comes from his father, Jonathan, who helped Rich Vogler and Stan Fox compete in Indianapolis 500s. David Byrd also helped Bryan Clauson compete in the 500 in 2015 and ’16.
Weeknight action of the Chili Bowl can be viewed online by pay-per-view at racinboys.com. Saturday’s final feature races will air on the MAVTV Motorsports Network. Results can be found at chilibowl.com.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season begins March 13-15 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida.