HARTFORD, Ohio — Aaron Reutzel may not have won the battle Sunday night at Sharon Speedway, but the two-time defending All Stars Circuit of Champions titlist won the war in resounding fashion.
Needing to finish 22nd or better in the Cometic Gasket Ohio Sprint Speedweek finale, Reutzel came home as the runner-up to Kyle Larson in the Justin Snyder’s Salute to the Troops event at the three-eighths-mile dirt track.
It was more than enough to clinch Reutzel’s first Ohio Sprint Speedweek championship, an honor he’s been chasing sincejoining the All Star field as a full-time driver several years ago.
The Clute, Texas, native’s impeccable run of consistency through this year’s nine-race, 10-night stretch more than filled that gap on the résumé, however.
Reutzel put together seven podium finishes and eight top-10 finishes during Ohio Sprint Speedweek en route to a stout 86-point margin over runner-up Cale Conley, who was also chasing his first Speedweek crown.
He started the week with third- and second-place runs at Attica Raceway Park and Fremont Speedway, respectively, before returning to Fremont for round three and conquering that track for his lone win during Speedweek.
From there, after three podiums in three nights, the game for Reutzel shifted to protecting his point lead as much as continuing to run for victories.
An eighth-place effort at Wayne County during round four sparked a fire under the No. 87 Baughman/Reutzel Motorsports team and they came back after the Tuesday-night break to post two more thirds and a second, nearly putting the chance for anyone else to steal the Speedweek throne out of reach.
But an uncharacteristic issue Saturday at Sharon that left Reutzel with an 18th-place finish, while Conley kept his title hopes alive by winning the Lou Blaney Memorial, slashing his deficit to 44 points.
Reutzel’s counterpunch was yet another podium finish — this one a runner-up — during the second half of the week-ending Sharon doubleheader to ice the title and bank the $4,000 check that came with it.
He didn’t have winning speed, necessarily, on Sunday, but Reutzel had more than enough to stay within sight of Larson. In retrospect, that’s really all he needed to do.
“We definitely accomplished the running on the podium part,” said Reutzel. “We’d like to get a little better at the winning part. It seems like we’ve gotten a lot of seconds and thirds and fourths lately, but if we just stay here, the wins will come … or if we can get Kyle (Larson) to go away, the wins will come. He’s unreal, to be able to run the top that many laps and just keep bouncing off the wall like he did and keep going. It was crazy.
“I think I needed no cautions at all and for us to kind of go through some lapped traffic, because I felt like I could move around a little bit better compared to when he’d get off the top. I think he wasn’t quite as good as I was, but it was a good race. We had a great race car. I just think the better driver won tonight.”
Reutzel thought he might have had one shot at defeating Larson when the latter got into the outside wall in turn one with three laps to go in the feature, but Larson never faltered.
“He got in the fence a lot, but he’d get in and just keep making speed,” Reutzel noted. “It was crazy to watch from where I was sitting. I thought, maybe, he might’ve been one mistake away from us getting there, but he just kept too good of a pace.”
Restarts, in particular, were Reutzel’s Achilles heel on Sunday night at Sharon.
“After the yellows, he would gap me by half a straightaway and get away from me in three laps. It would take me six laps to get back to him,” Reutzel said. “But it was a great weekend, a great race and a hell of a race track. You can’t be too disappointed with that.”
Knowing that the last few years, the Ohio Sprint Speedweek title had eluded him, Reutzel called himself “satisfied” by winning the title.
Going forward, he’ll look to write another page of history with his No. 87 crew by securing a third straight All Star championship through the remaining summer and fall months.
But that didn’t stop him from taking a moment Sunday night to soak in his latest accomplishment.
“When you look at the history of the All Star (series) champions, as well as (Ohio) Speedweek, it’s a lot of great names,” Reutzel noted. “I said before that I felt like Speedweek might actually be a little bit harder to win, just because if you have one bad night, it could all be over from there … where with an entire season, you can have a few bad nights as long as you capitalize on the good runs.
“This wasn’t an easy week, that’s for sure, but we’re proud to be standing here now and we’ll see what we can do with the momentum going forward.”
SPEED SPORT’s Ohio Sprint Speedweek coverage is presented by Cometic Gasket Inc., a leading worldwide supplier of gaskets and engine sealing solutions for the automotive performance, powersports, original equipment and remanufactured engine industries. No matter what you ride, Cometic Gasket can seal your machine so you can focus on the finish line.
Since 1989, Cometic has been living, breathing, and eating powersports. As a proud supporters of GNCC, AMA, NASCAR, and other race-teams across the country, Cometic understands what it takes to put everything on the line with one goal in mind. When you earn your living racing at the highest level against the best in the country, engine failures simply aren’t an option. Champions across the world continue to use Cometic Gasket for their engine-sealing solutions. Whether they’re driving a Gen-6 stock car or riding a top fuel motorcycle, Cometic Gaskets are the reliable source in extreme conditions.
For more information on Cometic Gasket Inc., visit www.cometic.com.