LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sam Hafertepe Jr. continued his winning ways by racing to victory lane in Friday night’s 25-lap preliminary feature at the 30th annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires at I-30 Speedway.
After outdueling Aaron Reutzel for the point in the early going, Hafertepe slipped away to a near straightaway advantage over the latter half of the race to secure a prime starting position among the front three rows in Saturday night’s $15,000-to-win, $2,000-to-start STN championship feature.
While the reigning Lucas Oil ASCS National champion posted his second career STN preliminary feature win and first since 2010 aboard the Towline Variety/Lonestar Speedway No. 15h Cool-chassis, Tim Crawley and Aaron Reutzel earned passes to Saturday’s finale as well by virtue of finishing second and third, respectively.
Following a rally from 13th to fifth in Thursday night’s preliminary feature, Hafertepe was on point all Friday evening with heat and qualifying race wins to earn the pole position for the feature event with fellow Lone Star State rep Reutzel alongside.
The duo slid each other a pair of times on the opening circuit before Hafertepe edged ahead upon the completion of the opening round.
Following the race’s only caution for a Brandon Hanks off-track excursion beyond the turn one banking with eight rounds in the books, Hafertepe slipped away, leaving Reutzel and Crawley to battle it out for second.
Hafertepe reached traffic with eight laps remaining yet maintained his rapid pace, crossing the stripe with a handful of lapped cars and most of a straightaway between himself and runner-up Crawley.
“We weren’t gonna get too crazy and race each other too hard there early on,” Hafertepe said after his 19th overall win of the season. “We can save that for tomorrow night with the money on the line.”
While Hafertepe locked into his fifth career STN championship feature, Crawley and Reutzel diced in side-by-side fashion for several laps before Crawley slipped away to secure runner-up honors aboard Mike Ward’s No. 88 sprint car.
After fading from the pole position to finish sixth in Thursday’s feature, Crawley’s runner-up showing makes him the first driver in STN history to earn a starting berth in 20 STN championship main events.
After challenging Crawley on the topside earlier, Reutzel dropped to the bottom shelf in the closing rounds to preserve the critical third-place finish aboard the Dissolvalloy Downhole Revolution No. 87 Triple-X.
Saturday will mark Reutzel’s fourth career STN championship feature start.
“We let third slip away from us last night, there was no way I was going to let that happen again,” Reutzel said.
Jason Martin closed the gap on Reutzel in the closing rounds, but had to settle for fourth, with Morgan Turpen posting the top feature finish by a female in STN history by rounding out the top five.
RESULTS: 30th annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals; I-30 Speedway; Oct. 13, 2017
A Feature (25 laps): 1. 15h-Sam Hafertepe Jr. (1); 2. 88-Tim Crawley (4); 3. 87-Aaron Reutzel (2); 4. 36-Jason Martin (3); 5. 10m-Morgan Turpen (8); 6. 47-Dale Howard (9); 7. 99-Skylar Gee (7); 8. 88r-Cody Gardner (12); 9. 28-Jonathan Cornell (17); 10. 23b-Brian Bell (16); 11. 29-Willie Croft (10); 12. 91a-Ernie Ainsworth (5); 13. 2c-Wayne Johnson (15); 14. 21T-Ray Allen Kulhanek (11); 15. 14k-Kyle Bellm (19); 16. 7m-Chance Morton (6); 17. 17-Josh Baughman (20); 18. 12T-Joe Young (13); 19. 17g-Channin Tankersley (14); 20. 84-Brandon Hanks (18).
Lap Leaders: Sam Hafertepe Jr. (1-25).
CREDIT: The Wheatley Chronicles/ASCS