Kingsport Times-News: Larson, Bell headline offseason winners
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Larson, Bell headline offseason winners

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 16, 2019 at 9:18 PM

Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell proved once again they are elite driving talents over the last couple of months.

The two NASCAR stars dominated action on the New Zealand dirt tracks a couple of weeks ago, leading the American team to a win in the United Truck Parts International Midget Series, which featured drivers from the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Larson won three of the four races in the open-wheel cars and Bell won the other, beating the locals on their own playground. The Americans had an epic battle at the end on Jan. 3 where Bell passed Larson for the lead with two laps to go, but Larson did a crossover move to regain the lead and win the race.

Their success should come as no surprise. Larson swept races in New Zealand in a trip back in 2013. In November, Bell won the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix for midget cars for a third time.

Both of them, along with other NASCAR drivers with open-wheel backgrounds including Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier and J.J. Yeley, are among the more than 350 racers entered in this weekend's Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals at Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Larson got off to a strong start, winning Tuesday’s feature race and qualifying for Saturday’s A-Main feature.

Longtime NASCAR crew chief Jimmy Elledge, the ex-brother in law of Dale Earnhardt Jr., is also entered in the race in which Bell is the two-time defending champion. Other racers from other disciplines include World of Outlaws legend Sammy Swindell, IndyCar racer Connor Daly and Tony Stewart, the retired three-time NASCAR champion and another two-time winner of the Chili Bowl. Frustrated with an uncompetitive ride and what the international reporters described as personal issues back in the United States, Stewart left before the end of the series.

Stewart was a winner in USCS 360 Sprint Cars near the end of last season. He captured victories at a pair of Florida dirt tracks, Southern Raceway and Bubba Raceway Park.

Other NASCAR racers are busy with their Super Late Models.

Truck Series driver Noah Gragson passed Harrison Burton, son of 21-time Cup winner Jeff Burton, for the lead to win the 51st annual Snowball Derby. He joined his car owner, Kyle Busch, as a winner of the prestigious race. Busch has two wins at the Pensacola, Florida, race.

Ty Majeski, who raced in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last season, finished second to Gragson. Burton had troubles at the end and finished 10th.

Kyle Busch will kick off his season in Super Late Models at the SRL Winter Showdown in California on Feb. 11, one day after the Advance Auto Parts Shootout for the Cup Series. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones and Gragson are among those entered in the third annual race.

SPEEDWAY SHOW BACK IN JC

The Kingsport Speedway Mall Show will be returning to the Mall at Johnson City for a third straight year on Saturday, Feb. 23.

It is one of the most popular events of the year at the mall with 20-30 teams participating and all kinds of race cars on display. For fans, it's a great chance to mingle with the drivers and crews in a laid-back atmosphere.

In its ninth year overall, the preview is an important tool for Kingsport Speedway to get the word out about the upcoming season. While NASCAR has struggled at the national level, big crowds have shown up for the weekly action at Kingsport.

The action was spectacular at times last season, highlighted by intense racing and tough rivalries.

Johnson City driver Zeke Shell is the defending track champion and his No. 1 Ford nicknamed "Black Betty" is one of the cars expected to be on display. Kres VanDyke, the 2017 champion, and many of the other top Late Model drivers, as well as those from the speedway's other divisions, are expected to attend.

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