BRISTOL, Tenn. — Considering the excessive banking and the blazing speeds it helps create at Bristol Motor Speedway, World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car Series competitors envisioned this week’s Bristol Throwdown would produce a narrow, bottom-dominant racing surface Friday night.
Then, track officials went to work and those predictions were pleasantly defied once Friday’s 25-lap feature unfolded. The top of the track came to life and drivers, namely Aaron Reutzel and Kyle Larson, had enough grip to put on a thrilling show.
During the opening 19 laps, Reutzel rocketed from ninth and into a race for the lead with eventual winner David Gravel. If it wasn’t for Logan Schuchart bringing out the caution with five laps to go, Reutzel may have capped off an epic drive to victory using the high line. Larson, meanwhile, finished sixth after starting 12th.
“The track crew did a phenomenal job, giving us something to race on,” Reutzel said. “There was a lot of hype going into this race. I’m glad the A Main turned out good for them.”
“It was good,” Larson said. “The racing was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. You could run multiple lanes. It was fun.”
There was no indication drives like Reutzel’s or Larson’s would happen. Gravel was a full second faster than the remaining five competitors in the six-lap dash using the bottom and in clean air.
Then the complexion turned for the better after track workers applied water around the top of the track. Reutzel ended up roughly three tenths faster than Gravel, who set a track record during qualifying, toward the later stages of the night around the top groove.
It was Tyler Courtney and Donny Schatz, though, who showed everyone the high side would work. In a backup car, Courtney raced from eighth to fifth in the B Main using the top to transfer into the main event. Schatz, on the other hand, was the first of the leaders to try the top.
Reutzel saw Schatz made it stick early on, prompting him to move up.
“It was better than expected,” said Schatz, who finished fifth. “I guess we had a little inclination of what it would be like,but everything has held up so well.”
“It’s quite surprising, really,” Schatz added. “Hats off to those guys. They had a great race track. There were guys moving around.”
Once the top of the track established itself, the bottom still had good speed, making third-place finisher Carson Macedo think about how he’d have to attack the track.
“I didn’t know where to be for parts of the race and that kind of hurt me a little bit,” Macedo said. “And then Aaron drove by me on the top.”
Paul McMahan, one of the few drivers who competed in the last World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2001, started fourth and faded to ninth because he didn’t expect the track to be that wide.
“No, I didn’t,” McMahan said. “I thought it was going to be follow-the-leader. That’s where I made all my mistakes. I was anticipating that and didn’t get up to the top fast enough. The track is in great shape. I think it put on a great race for the fans. It was the total opposite of what I thought it was going to be like. Really excited to come back.”
Interaction on social media was positive, too. NASCAR Cup Series driver and open-wheel dirt ringer Christopher Bell tweeted approval for Friday’s show.
“What an amazing night of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway,” Bell wrote. “Thank you for an awesome product. Great surface and great drivers putting on an amazing show at incredible speeds. Can’t wait for tomorrow!”
“That’s what it’s here for,” said Schatz in regard to the positive reaction from fans and figures in motorsports.
“I think it’s a big win for our sport,” Gravel said. “I feel like the late model races [at Bristol] were OK. For us to put on a good event, to be the fastest cars to go around this track, to actually put on a show in the A Main, is huge.”
The 30-lap, $25,000-to-win Bristol Throwdown finale was postponed from Saturday to Sunday afternoon because of persistent precipitation. Hot laps are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, with opening ceremonies slated for 1:30.