BRISTOL, Tenn. — As the laps rapidly clicked away during Friday’s World of Outlaws NOS Energy Bristol Throwdown, Aaron Reutzel’s pursuit of the lead intensified.
Starting ninth in the 25-lap feature, no one ultimately committed to the top groove at Bristol Motor Speedway like Reutzel, who rocketed to second in the closing stages and into the dwindling wake of leader David Gravel.
It had all the makings for an epic charge to victory, but then a caution flag with six laps to go for Logan Schuchart changed everything. Reutzel eventually settled for second, as Gravel drove away following the race’s final restart.
Gravel’s dominant night made all the headlines, but Reutzel was the show.
“I had a phenomenal race car,” he said. “I could go anywhere.”
“When I found [the top], I was fully committed,” Reutzel added. “I was a little nervous to jump up there at first. It was pretty wet up there the start of the race.”
Going into the night, there was zero indication anything other than the bottom of the track would work. Officials performed track maintenance before the main event, adding some water along the top, and that opened the door for Reutzel to surge.
It almost never happened, though. Reutzel hurt his second engine in as many days during hot laps and had to feverishly change motors before qualifying. He managed to time trial 12th-quickest with a lap of 13.986 seconds, .314 off Gravel’s track record mark.
“My guys did a phenomenal job,” Reutzel said. “I felt like the engine change went really smooth and really quick.”
He finished third in his heat and at that point he was still unsure how things would unfold during the main event. But when the feature started, Reutzel quickly became alert to the evolving conditions and just how good the top would become.
“The track changed around a lot, honestly,” Reutzel said. “Probably the first five laps the bottom was the place to be. The top kind of got faster. Then bottom came back in. At one stage, you could kind of do both. The track crew did a phenomenal job. Everyone did a phenomenal job.”
Gravel raced to a sizable lead and when he caught traffic on lap seven, it became a battle of who could navigate dirty air. For Reutzel, his aggressive approach gave him an upper hand. A wider corner entry, one that’s right up next to the wall, gives Reutzel more options to work with.
“I could enter high and then make a decision to stay up there or pull down across the race track,” Reutzel said. “I could make speed doing both.”
Reutzel was mere car lengths behind Gravel when the final caution flag appeared, something the driver of the Roth Motorsports No. 83 machine didn’t want to see.
“It definitely hurt me,” Reutzel said. “Where I felt like we were at our best is traffic. A bunch of guys just stalled out being in dirty air. We were good enough where I could be out behind anyone and just carry speeds.”
“It definitely would have been a pretty good race at the end if we didn’t have that caution,” Reutzel added.
It’s Reutzel’s fifth podium in 22 races this year. He is fifth in the World of Outlaws standings, 122 points behind leader Brad Sweet.