TULSA, Okla. – If you thought you were “seeing a red blur” during Monday’s Cummins Qualifying Night feature at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, don’t worry. You weren’t the only one.
Tucker-Boat Motorsports driver Aaron Reutzel, who started third in the 30-lap preliminary feature with a shot to lock himself into Saturday night’s championship finale, roared to the lead on the outside by lap five and appeared to have the fastest car in town.
That was the first time his red-and-black, Toyota-powered Spike was a blur to the competition.
Then came a flipping Dustin Golobic in turn two on the 11th round of the main – right across the track into Reutzel’s path – leaving the Texas veteran with nowhere to go and parked, relegated to the rear.
After that, the red blur in question wasn’t only referring to Reutzel’s car on the race track, but to the proverbial haze in front of his eyes as he “got up on the chip” and roared back to the front.
In a 20-lap timeframe, Reutzel stormed from outside the top 15 all the way back to the podium, making a critical pass of Michael Pickens coming to the checkered flag to secure a third-place finish.
It was, potentially, a Saturday-saving rally for the two-time defending All Star Circuit of Champions titlist, who made waves in more ways than one in the feature and admitted afterward that he was driving with some extra fire in his quest to rebound.
“I don’t know if I was level-headed,” Reutzel chuckled. “I feel like I go into ‘rage mode’ whenever something like that happens to me, and I did. I was honestly in rage mode, driving as hard as I could, and I was a little shocked on just how much (stress) the car could handle. I could slide people and hit the curb, to where I thought I was going to bike up or throw the nose, and it would just keep on trucking.
“This taught me a little bit tonight. It was definitely a tough lesson to learn, but I learned what these cars can handle and will take that forward,” he added. “But yeah, I just kind of blacked out there and drove as hard as I could tonight. Our car was so good; it’s never easy, but it was almost easy to get runs and slide people like I was able to do in the second half of that one.”
Reutzel’s most noteworthy moment in his run back to the front came when he and Trey Marcham tangled with eight to go while racing for sixth in turn two.
A diving pass attempt on Reutzel’s part led to contact that sent Marcham flipping into the catchfence, leaving the latter incensed but Reutzel unapologetic after all the pomp and circumstance on the podium was complete.
“Man, it’s Chili Bowl,” Reutzel said from his car on the Racinboys broadcast under the red-flag period. “After all the cars I passed tonight, if that’s the only car I wrecked, I feel like I’m doing pretty well there.”
For Reutzel, who isn’t a midget driver by trade but instead plies his craft in 410 winged sprint cars through the year, Monday night’s effort was a breakthrough run at the River Spirit Expo Center – aided in large part by the efforts of his co-team owner and crew chief Chad Boat.
“Hats off to Chad. Speaking for myself, I feel like it’s really hard for a non-winged crew chief to adapt to a winged driver, because I like to run so much straighter … I feel like a lot of winged drivers do that overall,” Reutzel noted. “But Chad’s done a really good job of getting me comfortable and getting the car to where I can drive it, so I’m really pleased with that and looking forward to putting it in the show on Saturday night.”
Knowing he’ll be starting in the front of a B-main on Saturday night, Reutzel is optimistic about his chances of securing a place in the starting field for the 55-lap championship feature.
However, he still couldn’t help but think about what could have been for him and his No. 87 team.
“We had a great race car; that’s definitely one of the reasons we were able to get back up there,” Reutzel noted. “Really, I’m trying to get a little excited about running third, but it’s still a little disappointing to have been leading the thing and gotten caught up in a wreck like we did. We had a great car. I was able to jump right to the lead, and then I tried to slow my pace down a little bit, just to minimize my mistakes.
“I could see he (McIntosh) was on me one time, but we were getting into lap traffic, and I was trying to watch what they were doing and just got caught up when Golobic flipped there,” he added. “Having to go to the back was rough, but our car was so good that I could just move around and run a lot harder than the people I was racing with.
“It’s not a win, but it still puts us in a good position.”
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Toyota Racing Development has won five consecutive Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals features. Thanks to Mobil 1, Sprint Car & Midget is providing exclusive coverage of the multi-car organization, led by three-time winner and current champ Christopher Bell and two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu, and other Toyota-equipped organizations and drivers as they prepare for and compete in the Chili Bowl. The Mobil 1 Road To The Driller program is in addition to SPEED SPORT and Sprint Car & Midget’s traditional “Live from the Chili Bowl presented by MyRacePass” coverage that surrounds the event.