Oklahoma native Christopher Bell wins 2017 Chili Bowl in Tulsa

Posted at 2:23 PM, Jan 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-15 16:45:23-05

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Christopher Bell was aware of his place in history as soon as he won the Chili Bowl's main race.

In the week leading up to Saturday night's final event, the Norman native studied past Chili Bowls and watched old races. He knew a win would make him the first driver from Oklahoma since Andy Hillenburg in 1994 to claim victory in the final race.

"I started bawling inside my helmet when I took the checkered flag," he said. "I saw everyone standing up in the crowd, and it was just a really special moment for me."

The event was held at the Tulsa Expo Raceway, just a two-hour drive from his hometown. Even though he's a part of NASCAR's truck series, Bell said the Chili Bowl still holds a special place for him.

"This event is my favorite week of the year," he said. "For me, coming into this week, I always say I'm going to enjoy every minute of it because before you know it, it's gone."

Daryn Pittman, of nearby Owasso, finished second. He felt strongly about the 1-2 finish for Oklahoma drivers.

"I'm proud to be from Oklahoma," Pittman said. "I haven't lived here in 15 years, but I always consider myself an Okie. Proud to run second, and honestly, if I couldn't win, I'm as happy for him (Bell) to get the win as I would be for myself."

Bell said he believes in Pittman's talent, and sees big things for him ahead.

"Daryn's going to get one before it's over, too," Bell said.

Justin Grant, who won the Friday feature, finished third, and Tanner Thorson was fourth.

The 22-year-old Bell said he learned from his mistakes in past years.

"In years past, I've always been just attack, attack, attack, attack when I came to this race," he said. "It didn't need to be that way. This time, I approached it differently and made sure that I ran just hard enough to stay in position but not get myself in trouble."

Two-time defending champion Rico Abreu started at the back of the field and finished 11th. NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 16th.

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