Reutzel Starts Title Defense with Win, Hafertepe Chases, and More from 360 Nationals Opener – DTD Exclusive

By Mike Mallett

The streak continues for Aaron Reutzel.

Reutzel, the defending 360 Knoxville Nationals champion, came in with seven consecutive finishes of first or second in 360 Sprint Car competition at Knoxville Raceway. You can now make that eight.

Reutzel drove by Colby Copeland on lap 15 of the 20-lap feature to drive away for the feature win worth $3,000 in the ASCS National Series feature.

Although he won, the Clute, Texas, driver wasn’t happy with his night. He was the fourth car to go out for time trials and ended up fifth. He expected more from his efforts. That may be the difference between a front-row starting position or being in the second or third row.

“Last year, the stars aligned,” said Reutzel. “I went forth quick after going out late, and then the three guys ahead of me didn’t even make the show out of their heat races.  Friday night, more stuff happened like that as well. Tonight I go fifth, and everyone makes it out of the heat races. I don’t know where it’s gonna put me. I’m thinking, and I’m hoping for the second row or third row, but I don’t think it’s gonna be the front row. I think there’s gonna be some higher points tomorrow.”

Reutzel started from the outside of the second row. He got to second quickly and was forced to chase Colby Copeland. Copeland was good in clean air and kept Reutzel behind him. It was not until traffic came into play that Reutzel was able to challenge He almost made the pass in turns three and four. As he went for the lead, Copeland changed lines, and Reutzel went higher and caught the cushion, causing the car to hop.

Reutzel recovered and was able to get by Copeland in turns one and two. Copeland got into dirty air and missed the bottom of the track. Reutzel drove by and drove away from that point.

“I thought Colby was going back to the bottom, and I think he slipped off the bottom,” said Reutzel. “I just tried to run right off his right rear. He kind of slipped right in front of me, and I had to take evasive action and got up over the cushion. That was a close call. The track was so dirty, you could just move all over it. The way it was, we needed a lot of traffic to really change the race up there.

“Colby was running around wide open.  Even when I was behind him, I would run good lines right off his rear, and he kind of just inch away from me. I’d get back to the bottom and get right back to him.”

Hafertepe Follows Reutzel: Just like last year’s 360 Knoxville Nationals, Sam Hafertepe Jr. finished second behind Reutzel after starting 10th. He was good, but not good enough to find his way around Reutzel for the win.

“We had a really good race car,” said Hafertepe. “Aaron runs here all the time, so he knows where to put his car in those situations, and he did exactly what he needed to do.  We had a better race car, but he drove a really good race and put himself in the right spots at the right time. We made a little charge on him there the last couple laps, but couldn’t get it done.”

Hafertepe will have work to do come Saturday, as he expects to start deep after time trialing in 17th as the 44th car to hit the speedway.

“Hats off to my guys, to go out that way and qualifying how we did with going out that late,” said Hafertepe. “We salvaged tonight, going out as late as we did. So it’s good to get up to second from 10th. We’ll just build on it for Saturday and see how far we get through the field.”

Qualifying Low Down: There were 50 cars that took time on Thursday, with Kaleb Johnson the quickest at 16.389. Heat wins were taken by Brenham Crouch, Tasker Phillips, Jason Martin, Austin McCarl, and Scott Bogucki. Liam Martin won the C-Main, and Ryan Leavitt won the B-Main.

Tough Night for Abreu: Rico Abreu is one of the hottest 410 drivers in the country currently. He qualified 10th in time trials after going out late. He missed transferring from his heat race and had to run the B-Main. He made the A-Main, but could only muster an 18th-place finish.

On Their Lids: Two drivers got upside down. At the start of the B-Main, Liam Martin and Chase Morton got together. Martin had just transferred out of the C-Main. He was unable to continue. Phillips got over on lap five of the A-Main. It was a light roll, and he was able to continue.