MEEKER, Okla. – For those watching on, Friday night’s All Star Circuit of Champions stop at Red Dirt Raceway was a case of “where did he come from?” when it came to Justin Peck.
Peck, from Monrovia, Ind., put together a banner drive in Pete Grove’s No. 70 Premier Motorsports sprinter at the quarter-mile bullring – climbing from 15th to finish fourth.
The 21-year-old spent the entirety of the 40-lap race catfishing, glued to the bottom of the race track in hopes of using the short way around to make both time and positions.
And while everyone’s eyes were on a scintillating three-way battle for the lead between eventual winner Aaron Reutzel, Kyle Larson and Danny Dietrich, Peck’s plan eventually paid dividends.
Peck cracked the top 10 inside the first 10 laps, but it took him the next 13 to reach the top five, chasing Reutzel, Larson, Dietrich and Cory Eliason at that point.
As it turned out, it was that quartet that Peck would join in the final quarter of the feature, closing in little by little before reaching the scrum and going to war with them on lap 29.
Peck got as high as fourth in a battle that saw the five frontrunners all under a blanket several times between laps 30 and 35, but a caution with four to go for the slowing Sam Hafertepe Jr. machine eliminated traffic and straightened out the battle down the stretch.
Following the final restart, Peck stumbled briefly and slid back to sixth, but rallied quickly and made a last-lap pass of Dietrich to secure fourth place at the finish – his best result in four All Star appearances so far this year.
While it was an impressive run just by the numbers, Peck’s dash forward was amplified when taking into account that he was under the weather all day leading up to the race.
“I woke up with strep throat yesterday, so I was really just kinda gassed,” Peck told Sprint Car & Midget via phone on Saturday. “I really just didn’t have the energy to get off the bottom and it kind of worked out, you know? I had some guys that were moving around the race track, and I just had a good enough race car where I could run right through the slick and keep my tires underneath me.
“We just kept working with the adjustments and found out what this J&J (chassis) likes,” Peck noted. “I feel like we’ve got it pretty dialed in right now and it’s showing on the track.”
Though it worked out well for him come race time, Peck admitted that he wasn’t necessarily expecting the bottom groove to be as strong as it was for him on Saturday.
“I watched the dash where Larson really hit the bottom really good one time, and it seemed like he got a really good run, but I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be that good at all race (long),” Peck explained. “I knew the top was going to be fast. “But honestly, I didn’t even try it. I ran all 40 laps, every corner, right around the bottom. I never even got up there, so I don’t know what our car would have been like up there.
“With the way the balance of our J&J is right now, man, I really think that car could’ve planted and stuck anywhere I needed it to; it was just one of those deals where a lot of guys were up there trying to pound the boards down, and I knew that if I was going to be out there throwing sliders the whole race, it would eat up a lot of time,” he continued. “I knew if I could just get my stuff right around the bottom, we were going to be good, but to be that good was really impressive when you look at how things turned out for us.”
Peck left Meeker on Friday night seventh in the updated All Star standings, but with a new batch of eyes paying attention to him thanks to his strongest run so far in 2020.
The young gun believes that his most recent performance is just the beginning, as well.
“I feel like early this year, we kind of stumbled upon something that our car really likes,” Peck said. “We’ve got a really good shock package and a good Rider Racing Engine under the hood, so it just goes to show that if we can just keep all of our efforts trending strong and keep our cars clean where we don’t have parts failures like we did the first weekend, then we’ve got the pace to go out and make some things happen.
“I think we’re going to be right there in the hunt for most of these races now; it’s just a matter of getting the breaks to fall our way. I’m excited, though. I really am.”