TULSA, Okla — Chase Johnson’s smile was so big following the conclusion of Thursday night’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary feature that you could, almost literally, see it from the opposite side of the Tulsa Expo Center.
And, despite his shock from having held off a determined Tracy Hines to lock into his first-career Chili Bowl main event, there was an equal element of shock, as he asked his crew several times if he was still dreaming amid a sea of flash bulbs and people lining up to congratulate him on his achievement.
For Johnson, this was a watershed moment. It was the freeze-frame in time where the now-22 year old looked around and said to himself, “We finally made it.”
“I’ve had a lot of big moments, but this is one of — if not the coolest — thing I’ve ever been a part of in racing,” Johnson told Race Chaser Online in the moments after he climbed from his car Thursday night.
“I still feel like I need somebody to pinch me. I really can’t believe it. Wow. We locked ourselves in with a podium finish on prelim night. This is just … it’s amazing. I can’t thank Del Morris and his wife Robin enough, along with all the crew that have been working on this car since Monday to get it ready to go for me. I am just at a loss for words right now and incredibly proud to do this for myself, my family and this whole team.”
Johnson came from sixth to win his heat race on Thursday and then backed up that performance by going from sixth to second in his 10-lap qualifier later in the night.
That lined him up on the outside of polesitter Christopher Bell for the feature, and that was the moment that Johnson knew he had a legitimate shot to make something happen.
“Having a good starting position here always helps, and when we ended up starting on the front row, I knew we would have a chance at something special here,” Johnson explained. “The car was so fast all day that I felt from the beginning that we could race hard and contend for one of the three spots. I just knew I couldn’t make a mistake.”
And he truly had to be flawless down the stretch. Johnson settled into second early, but as the race wore on, Shane Golobic overhauled him for the runner-up spot and left him scrambling as he worked to hold off Caleb Armstrong and Tracy Hines for the final transfer position into the big dance.
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