Nobody should be surprised that Tony Stewart has entered the Chili Bowl Nationals to be run at Tulsa Expo Raceway from Jan. 8-12.
Last year he fought his way to a 10th-place finish after taking three years off, probably to attend to the things necessitated by his formation of Stewart-Haas Racing.
It seems certain that the Chili Bowl isn’t being put on the back burner for 2013. He will saddle up in his own Tony Stewart Racing No. 14. He has selected a Spike chassis; and, of course, the “bow-tie” power will come from Chevrolet Performance. You can rest assured that Tony’s midget will want for nothing when it rolls from the trailer into the cavernous Tulsa Expo Center pits. Also, his performance at DuQuoin should help him get the car set up to his liking.
While Stewart will have his car set up to win, the biggest obstacles in the way of Stewart’s third championship are the Swindells, father and son. Father Sammy won in 1989, 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2009. Son Kevin won in 2010, 2011, and 2012. While the Swindells are probably the favorites to win, it is certain there are many more cars in the field capable of winning.
While the Chili Bowl’s passing points system goes a long way toward some equality of opportunity in the preliminary races, there is no way to remove the “luck factor” from the competition. Since there is so much parity in the equipment and since there are a lot of drivers competitive enough to win, the number rises.
One team that is certain to have a potential winner or two can be found on Kelley Street at the airport.
Pete Willoughby and Keith Kunz and their Keith Kunz Motorsports are busily preparing the five or more cars that they will be taking to Tulsa.
The drivers who will be in Kunz livery are:
Rico Abreu of Rutherford, Calif. (67), who will be making his second Chili Bowl and his second race running for Kunz. He is slated to drive for the Kunz team in 2013. While 2012 was probably his first year of competition, his performance improved markedly during that year.
Riley Emmel of Estevan, Saskatchewan (67k)
Christopher Bell of Norman, Okla. (67w). Bell is thought to have serious potential talent. After taking him through the Chili Bowl, Willoughby and Kunz should have a much better idea of his prospects.
Kyle Larson of Elk Grove, Calif. (71). Larson drove for Willoughby and Kunz during 2011 and when he was available during 2012. He took USAC by storm; and he had a ride whenever he could put the event in his schedule. He won the NASCAR K&N East Series during 2012; and he is likely to run full time in stockcars sometime during 2013.
Jason Myers of Clovis, Calif. (71k). Myers is a two-time World of Outlaws sprint car champion.
In addition to the Swindells, there will be a strong contingent from the Loyets. Loyet Motorsports of Sunset Hills, Mo., has entered cars for:
Brad Loyet of Sunset Hills, Mo. (05). He will make his 10th attempt to win the January classic. He won a preliminary feature in 2010; and he made five feature appearances.
Shane Cottle of Kokomo (05C). This will mark Cottle’s 14th attempt to win the elusive Golden Driller. He has made the feature nine times and his best finish was a second in 2000.
Gary Taylor of Snohomish, Wash. (05T). He will be making his 11th Chili Bowl appearance with his best feature finish being a 12th in 2009.
Bud Kaeding of Campbell, Calif. (05K). He is making his 13th appearance in Chili Bowl competition. His best finish so far was a third in 2000. Bud has had lots of experience in sprint cars, both with and without wings.
Of the 250 or so cars entered in the Chili Bowl, there are probably 50 or so drivers with a reasonable chance of winning the championship.
But, if I get four picks, I’ll take Sammy Swindell, Kevin Swindell, Stewart and Larson.
Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.