MEEKER, Okla. – Aaron Reutzel may have taken his series-leading fourth Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions win on Friday night, but it was easily the hardest-fought victory of the quartet.
In a mind-boggling 40-lap feature at the quarter-mile dirt oval, Reutzel topped a war with Kyle Larson to notch the $5,000 top prize, exchanging the lead numerous times with the dirt-track ace before finally taking command for good inside of five to go.
After Reutzel slid Larson in turn four to lead lap 36, a timely caution flag took traffic out of the picture, allowing the two-time defending All Star champion to run away to the checkered flag by 1.632 seconds.
But Reutzel’s dominant finish was only a small piece of the night’s thrilling puzzle.
The race began with Larson sprinting out to the early lead over Danny Dietrich, while polesitter Tony Stewart quickly fell back to fourth before jumping over the cushion in turn two on the third lap and falling out of contention from there.
Larson led comfortably despite three cautions in the first 10 laps, but Reutzel quickly made his presence known at the front after charging forward from seventh on the grid and passing Dietrich at lap 17.
From there, Reutzel cut a deficit of more than a second into shreds in just five revolutions, stalking Larson on laps 22 and 23 before railing the top side to lead lap 24 by a scant .003 seconds at the stripe.
Larson got shuffled back to third in a three-wide scramble for the top spot moments later, but rallied on the 26th round to slide Reutzel back in turns three and four after passing Dietrich in turns one and two.
The pilot of the Silva Motorsports No. 57 fended off a slider attempt from Reutzel to hold serve on lap 30, but as the lead battle worked into heavier traffic and grew to a five-car madhouse, Reutzel was not ready to stand down.
He dogged Larson amid lap cars before making his move with five laps to run, sliding Larson in turn four to reclaim the point on lap 36 just moments before a slowing Sam Hafertepe Jr. brought out a game-changing yellow flag.
Hafertepe ducked to the infield with a flat tire, while Reutzel lined up with clear track in front of him for a four-lap sprint to the finish. As soon as Cory Eliason challenged Larson for second on the restart, it was game over for anyone as far as trying to challenge the familiar Baughman-Reutzel Motorsports No. 87.
Reutzel was on cruise control after that, the only time all night he was able to breathe easy amid a continuous flurry of action at the front of the field.
“That was stressful,” Reutzel admitted. “I’d get tripped up pretty easily when I had my wing back, but I would make so much straightaway speed with the wing back that I would go back and forth on restarts and whatnot. When Larson and I got in a slide fest, I pulled it back to be able to run through the middle better, and it worked out for us. It was awesome.
“He’s the best in the world, and when you can go toe to toe with him and come out on top, you know it has been a good night.”
Larson hung on for second despite Eliason’s late attempt to take the runner-up spot, tipping that handling woes were his demise as far as having a shot to win the race in the closing laps.
“I maybe would have had a better shot (at Reutzel) if it had stayed green, but I just wasn’t sure what to do,” admitted Larson. “I wasn’t very good, and I could tell he was quite a bit better. Even when I felt like I would get through the corner well, he’d slide me in the next end, so I knew I was in trouble.
“I tried to do what I could, but we were just off a little bit in the feature – just way too loose. All in all, though, that was a fun race. I gave Aaron a thumbs up under the caution because I was having a blast.”
Eliason completed the podium, followed by Justin Peck, who climbed from 15th to finish fourth.
Dietrich crossed fifth, ahead of Zeb Wise, Ian Madsen, Greg Wilson, Brock Zearfoss and Danny Smith.
The Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions season continues Saturday night, June 6, with the third round of the Thunder Through The Plains at Outlaw Motor Speedway in Oktaha, Okla.
To view complete results, advance to the next page.