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Reutzel wins, Stewart fourth in Tennessee Sprint Car Nationals at Volunteer

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 28, 2020 at 6:15 PM

BULLS GAP — Aaron Reutzel went high and low to find the fastest way around Volunteer Speedway on Saturday night during the All Star Circuit of Champions Tennessee Sprint Car Nationals presented by Food City.

Driving the black No. 87, the Texas racer charged from a fifth-place starting spot and passed Cory Eliason for the lead on lap 24, going on to score his series-best fourth win of the season.

Reutzel, chasing a third straight All Star Circuit championship, made fast time on the high side of the racetrack in turns 1 and 2. Then he dipped down to the bottom of the track in turns 3 and 4 to pass three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, pole-sitter Paul McMahan and Cory Eliason in sequence to win the 30-lap A-Main.

The leaders sped around the high-banked, four-tenths-mile dirt track in laps exceeding 130 mph.

“I just searched for the best line around (turns) 3 and 4 and was finally able to find something on the bottom,” Reutzel said. “We had a good car and I was able to move around where most of the drivers weren’t. That’s what won us the race.

“I was frustrated earlier when Cory and me got together in the Dash (prior to the feature race). Passing him for the win made up for it.”

Eliason, second to Reutzel in the All Star points standings, started on the outside pole and grabbed the lead from McMahan on the opening lap. The California racer quickly pulled away and was virtually unchallenged until Reutzel, who had moved into second on lap 20, closed in.

Reutzel did a slide job on lap 23, but Eliason countered to retake the lead in the blue No. 26. Exiting turn 2 on the next lap, Reutzel made the move stick and was on his way to the win.

“We were off on the setup. We didn’t have the drive the 87 had off the exit (of the corners),” Eliason said. “I was good running the top, but when we had to move to the bottom in 3 and 4, I couldn’t keep up. That’s where he got by and kept carrying the speed.”

McMahan finished third, capping a good night after the Nashville driver of the No. 13 machine won an All-Star Dash to start on the pole in his home state.

“We raced Wednesday at Port Royal (Pennsylvania) and the car wasn’t very good. We took it back to the shop and worked on it and it showed tonight,” McMahan said. “We won the Dash earlier, but the Dash don’t pay anything. We wanted to win that big trophy.”

SMOKE RISING

Stewart, driving the familiar No. 14, was second to Eliason in qualifying. Smoke finished third in his heat race, third in the Dash and fourth in the A-Main.

Volunteer’s high-banked track provided some different challenges, but once it got rubbered in from heat races and the Sportsman Late Model and Classic features, it offered a good racing surface.

“By the main, it got slick enough where we could all move around and race well,” Stewart said. “It made for a fun A-Main where we had a good battle with Paul and earlier with the 70 car (of fifth-place Sye Lynch). It was a pretty good race. With Paul, I showed him my nose too soon and he wasn’t quite loose enough. I think if I waited another lap, I could have cleared him.”

The drivers had to learn the track’s intricacies, which include a dip in turn 3 that Lance Moss hit during hot laps — sending his No. 23 sprint car flipping through the air.

“This track has some character. There are some spots that are tricky,” Stewart said. “It caught some guys off guard. A lot of guys, including myself, hadn’t raced here before and you go out for hot laps. We tried to watch the Late Model hot laps before. These cars with the wings on them, you can go really hard in the corner and the first laps you don’t know what to expect. It caught a couple of guys off guard.”

Perhaps the most versatile racer in the world, Stewart said he has driven 23 kinds of race car on more tracks than he can remember. With his strong showing Saturday, the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Famer moved from eighth to fifth in the All Star standings.

SUPPORT CLASSES

Harrogate’s Travis Fultz grabbed the lead from Knoxville’s Adam Mitchell early and went on to win a wild 25-lap Sportsman Late Model feature.

Three multicar wrecks marred the race. The most serious saw two cars flip and the front of Mason Bare’s No. 24 land on the roof of Jimmy Calloway’s No. 77. The front of Michael Boyd’s No. 3 machine was ripped off in the same accident.

Fultz beat Jake Whitehead and Mitchell for the win.

Kentucky’s John Stevens captured the 20-lap Classic feature ahead of Tim Bounds in second and Chris McKinney in third.

Clayton Miller won the 20-lap Open Wheel Modified feature. Brandon Kinzer and Brandon Hutchinson scored the other podium finishes.

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