BRISTOL, Tenn. – A late caution in Friday night’s World of Outlaws Bristol Throwdown saved a near-perfect evening for David Gravel.
Before the yellow for Logan Schuchart’s slowing car on the backstretch with five laps left in the $10,000-to-win feature, WoO sprint car rookie Aaron Reutzel had cut Gravel’s lead to a half-second. But on the single-file restart after the caution, Gravel went straight to the top of the Bristol dirt track and pulled away in clean air to beat Reutzel to the finish line by 1.871 seconds.
“It’s pretty cool to be here after so long,” said Gravel, whose win came 20 after the last visit of the WoO sprint cars to Bristol. “It’s an iconic place that everybody talked about it as a sprint car driver. I can’t thank Bristol Motor Speedway and World Racing Group enough for making this happen, obviously, NASCAR, for putting dirt on it and going dirt racing. I think it’s great for everybody in motorsports.
“We had a great car, pretty much ever since we unloaded yesterday. After the heat race and the dash, I told them not to change a damn thing because the car was really, really good. I’m sure in traffic, guys got close there. I was somewhat conservative. Sunshine (Tyler Courtney) had pretty good pace there. I was just kind of following him. I knew after that caution that Reutzel must have been doing something good to pass them guys to get there.
“Those last five laps, I was wide open on top. I didn’t conserve a damn thing. I was conserving earlier, but I put together five qualifying laps. I’m sure they were my best laps of the race. Hopefully, he wasn’t too close.”
Carson Macedo ran third, followed by Sam Hafertepe Jr. and Donny Schatz.
Hafertepe, who started the race next to Gravel on the front row, got the best of the polesitter at the start of the race, but Hafertepe’s lead didn’t last long. Out of Turn 4 on Lap 3, Gravel reclaimed the lead, and by the time Gravel caught traffic on Lap 7, he had opened a 2.3-second lead.
But Reutzel, who had to make a quick engine change in his No. 83 Roth Motorsports entry before qualifying, passed Haftertepe for the second spot and was closing fast on Gravel in lapped traffic before the caution.
“To go from ninth to second to two laps away from taking the lead there, he couldn’t lap cars and my car was so good, I could go anywhere,” Reutzel said. “Once he had the clean track, he could go anywhere. He was back to being good again. He was the fastest car all night until lapped traffic came along—then I felt like we were the car to beat.
“You’ve got to be good to win these races but you also have to be lucky, and we didn’t have the luck tonight.”
Gravel’s qualifying lap was the harbinger of a high-speed race. The Watertown, Conn., driver toured the high-banked dirt oval (measured this weekend at .526 miles) in a track-record 13.672 seconds (138.502 mph), obliterating the mark of 13.860 seconds set by Sammy Swindell in 2000.
In fact, the top five qualifiers—Gravel, Gio Scelzi, Carson Macedo, Paul McMahan and Hafertepe—all ran faster than Swindell did 21 years ago. By way of comparison, every driver who ran a timed lap on Friday beat the NASCAR Cup Series qualifying record of 14.528 seconds (on concrete) set by Ryan Blaney on April 5, 2019.
Gravel subsequently won Heat 1 in dominating fashion and then drew the pole position for the Dash, which he won by a full straightaway over Hafertepe. The main event, however, got too close for comfort before the late caution gave Gravel the cushion he needed.
Kyle Larson, Scelzi, two-time defending series champion Brad Sweet, McMahan and rookie Brock Zearfoss completed the top 10.
The World of Outlaws sprint cars will compete in another 25-lap Bristol Throwdown feature on Saturday, with the ante upped to $25,000 to win.