Brown and Reutzel Show Nothing but Respect after 360 Nationals Duel – DTD Exclusive

By Mike Mallett

With a $20,000 payday on the line, Brian Brown wasn’t going to back down.

The 33rd edition of the 360 Knoxville Nationals looked like a runaway victory for Aaron Reutzel. He was about a third of a track away from that becoming reality. An unfortunate red flag changed all that.

The red flag gave Brown one last shot at Reutzel for the win, and he took it.

Reutzel made a couple mistakes in the last two laps, and Brown took full advantage. Brown drove by Reutzel off of turn four on the final lap to beat Reutzel by .02 seconds.

“He’s probably the smartest guy I’ve ever raced against, and I’m gonna get beat,” said Brown. “We drag raced down the backstretch, and we were able to, he went across, and I turned and was able to kind of get back down the hill. At that point, I thought, ‘Man, we’re going to wreck.’ It was just how bad and how close to the checkered flag it was, and I was willing to do it. I know he was willing to do it. We laid it on the line, and we were able to come out on top.

“I don’t think we were the fastest car by any stretch of the imagination. It just kind of played out that way at the end. It does that sometimes. Looking back, if I’m in his spot, I’m probably doing the same exact thing he did. One time he kind of slipped up and kind of got balled up on the cushion a little bit. That’s all it took for me to get my run, but I had nothing to lose.”

Brown had some insight into Reutzel’s game plan for the end of the race. He paid attention as Reutzel’s crew chief, Tyler Swank, gave him an idea of what to do in the final two laps. As a result, he planned accordingly for what was about to happen. It paid off.

“I saw his crew chief, Tyler Swank, down there in victory lane and kind of tell him,” said Brown. “I was like, okay, that’s kind of what I thought he would do and probably what he should do. He slid himself. I just railed the top like I thought I wanted to. I got a good run off turn two, and then I thought about sliding him going into turn three, but I was like, ‘no, I don’t want to ruin my opportunity here,’ because I ran the bottom a little bit before and kind of stayed right with him.

“So, I railed the bottom and was still pretty good coming off turn four. I’m like, ‘okay, I’m going to pull the trigger into turn one.’ I’m gonna be close enough here, and he kind of cheated down to slide himself. Again, what he should do. I just railed the top and got such a good run, and probably a bigger run than I even wanted to because I got to his outside at the back gate.”

Brown and Reutzel have been the two best weekly campaigners in the 410 ranks all season long at Knoxville. On Saturday, they were the two best 360 competitors not named Rico Abreu. Brown’s start in the 360 sprint car version of the Nationals was his first of the season. He made it count.

“We joke or we hate each other,” said Brown. “There’s really no kind of in-between.  We are able to, and even when we don’t like each other, I still respect the guy. Like I said earlier, I feel like he’s so smart and it’s hard to beat him. You just don’t have to have the best car. You’ve got to outthink him. Coming in this week, you can ask my wife, that’s what I wanted. I wanted, in my opinion, the two heavyweight title contenders on the front row.

“I knew Rico would be tough, but I felt like I watched Aaron with everybody all year long. I didn’t bring my 360 all year. So I was nervous, but that’s who I wanted. I didn’t want Aaron to start 10th and everyone to say, “Oh, if Aaron started on the front row, you couldn’t beat him.’  He was gonna beat me head-up. It played out. I was able to win. I wanted to race Aaron because I wanna beat the best, and I feel like he is.”

For Brown, it was his second career triumph in the event, as he was also victorious way back in 2013. He credited his crew chief, Chad Morgan, for making changes to the car after a runner-up finish in his Friday night preliminary event.

“Really, this win probably goes to my crew chief, Chad Morgan,” said Brown. “He worked all day long to make sure my motor was running tip-top. If I get to the lip or get in the curb, it doesn’t bog down, so I’m the one that kind of turned a comeback across, but if he doesn’t fix my motor, we don’t win it. It was unbelievable—just awesome. When you come off the turn to look at the scoreboard to see if you won or not, that’s a good race.”

Like every driver who succeeds in the 360 Nationals, Brown now holds out hope that he’ll be just as good this week for the 410 Nationals. It is a race that has eluded him over the course of his career. After this win, he comes into that event with the right mindset.

“I just want to enjoy these next seven days,” said Brown. “We put so much pressure on ourselves in years past that maybe we underachieved because of the pressure we put on ourselves. We just want to come in here and have a good time. We’ll have fun, and if we’re good enough to be in contention to win the Nationals, or if not, we’ll come back next year, we’ll have a good time anyway. In general, we just want to enjoy the next seven days. If I can’t win, hopefully a local does.”

Reutzel’s Second Worth More Than Winner: It isn’t often you finish second and make more than the winner, but that was the case for Reutzel. He picked up $500 for every lap led. He led 30 of the 31. That was good for an additional $15,000 on top of the $10,000 he won for second place. Not bad for a guy who didn’t win the trophy.

“At the end of the day, I race for a living,” said Reutzel. “It’s how I provide for my family. Actually, that’s one of the things me and Brian were joking about today before the race started. As I told him, I’m more nervous about getting the lead on the start because every lap I’m running second, I miss out on 500 bucks. So, I was more nervous about getting a lead on the start to start raking in that money, but you know, that’s a chunk of change, so I’ll take it.”

Reutzel has been unstoppable in the 360 division this season at Knoxville. His second place in this race gives him a first- or second-place finish in the last eight events he’s run. He’s been good. On this night, the car didn’t react the way he needed it to in the final two laps to win.

“I had everything to lose, and he had nothing to lose,” said Reutzel. “I did what I thought I had to do. I knew what he was gonna do, but I was just hoping that I could get off the corners good and basically just walk the last two laps. I got a little balled up—low air pressure or what? I just figured with clean air, I could probably bury them a little bit more and get back down track and get going. I just got a little balled up, and like he said, I looked at the scoreboard and saw him coming on my outside. I figured it was almost game over there when he was on my outside.

“I just slid myself and tried to run back down the hill. It was just the same thing. I got up in there and got balled up. It felt like it took me an eternity to turn back down the hill. As I’m coming back down the hill, he’s beside me. I tried to crowd him as much as I could. We’re banging wheels at the line. So, it sucked for me. I’m sure it made a hell of a race for the fans.”

Reutzel admitted afterwards that Brown was the one guy he didn’t want lining up behind him for the restart with two laps to go. It was going to be a fight. It was. Unfortunately, he came out on the wrong side of it.

“I have nothing but respect for Brown,” said Reutzel. “He’s kicked our ass all year, and it’s just another ass kicking by Brown tonight. They’ve been on their A game all year. I would have taken anyone in the field besides Brown on the restart beside him on a green, white, and checkered. I don’t know how many times he’s won races like that on restarts; he’s one of the best here at it. It was unfortunate. I tried to fight him off, but tonight he was the better driver.”