In what was definitely the most exciting sprint to the finish of the new Superstar Racing Experience short-track series, Tony Stewart scored his second consecutive victory in New Weston, Ohio for the third race at Eldora Speedway.
Tony Stewart, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver and local favorite at Eldora, put on a show at the track that he owns, starting from last in the 12-driver field to lead twice for six laps – all in the last seven laps of the 50-lap feature race at the half-mile, high-banked clay oval.
SRX Racing for 2021 consists of six nationally televised races, the first of which took place two weeks ago before a sold-out crowd at Stafford Motor Speedway. One of the “ringers” added to the lineup at race 1 was hometown track champion Doug Coby who took the first win in the Edelbrock-sponsored car. The Series went to Knoxville Raceway one week later where Tony Stewart took his first victory as a driver at the half-mile dirt oval. His win at Eldora makes it two in a row for Stewart. The Eldora race also marked the second and final dirt track race on the SRX schedule where Stewart showcased his versatility by holding off local all-star Kody Swanson by .481 of a second.
“Jack Hewitt was probably the best I’ve ever seen here at Eldora and I learned a couple of things watching him win the 4-Crown one year where he won all four divisions, and I used that line a lot early in the race here today and it helped out a lot,” said Stewart, referring to sprint car and midget racer Hewitt’s sweep of the 1998 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora.
“Kody found the bottom. I couldn’t roll the bottom as good as he could,” said Stewart after the race. “I was real dependent on being up on the top. I just think that’s what Eldora does – the complexion of the track changes during the race.
“I thought the top was good in the beginning in the main and then Kody got just crushing everybody on the bottom and got rolling through there. But the good thing was when he went by, everybody else followed him down there like they were in a parade and left the top open. And the longer we went, I finally got the momentum going on the top to get back by him.”
Swanson, the five-time USAC Silver Crown champion who leads the division in wins (30) and poles (31), nearly pulled off another victory for the local all-stars, emulating Doug Coby’s win in the Camping World SRX Series season opener on June 12 at Stafford Motor Speedway.
“I felt like we had a really strong car through the middle of the race,” said Swanson, who was forced into a backup car for the feature race after sustaining damage to his primary car in the second heat race. “I really appreciate everybody with SRX and the guys on the crews. They built 16 cars to come out and put this on in a short amount of time and I appreciate them letting me have a chance in a backup car. I hate to tear up their equipment and I hate to lose.
“I felt like we were really good in the middle of the race and the bottom just kind of gave up a little bit and I got the top of (turns) one and two working. But once Tony had track position, it was hard to get back by him. I felt like I had a chance there but I just didn’t hit the bottom perfect and he got back around. It’s awful hard to beat him here at Eldora.”
Four-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves acquitted himself well at Eldora, finishing a stout third and rising to second in the Camping World SRX Series championship standings, 33 points behind Stewart.
“It was crazy, especially on the restarts with PT. My goodness, I didn’t have anywhere to go except the wall and I kept hitting the wall,” said Castroneves, with his reference to P.T. being fellow driver Paul Tracy. “After that, something happened. It was really difficult – my car was really loose. So in the end, I said I’ve got to go to the bottom because I saw some of the guys go to the bottom – that’s the only way for my car to have a shot. The long runs were terrible for me. Restarts were the best. So, I kept it relatively clean, but man, I can’t believe it’s my first podium on the dirt. That is awesome.”
The most talked-about driver was Tracy. The 2003 NTT INDYCAR Series champion led the first 25 laps of the 50-lap feature and used the bumper and fenders of his purpose-built SRX racecar prodigiously to protect that lead and then defend his position as Swanson, Castroneves, Marco Andretti and Bobby Labonte surged toward the front.
“I know I’m going to have some Bobby Labonte fans after me because he’s super pissed at me, and rightly so,” Tracy said. “He got by me on the restart. I was running on top and I decided I was going to cut to the bottom like Tony did and I just got it all wrong. He turned in a little earlier than I thought he would and I tagged him and that was it. So that was my bad and I went over to apologize to him he was having none of it.
“The SRX cars put on a great show. I felt really good on this track. This is a wonderful track that Tony has and I couldn’t be happier with how we ran overall tonight. We picked up a lot of points and hopefully made some new fans. I’m sure we made some enemies because those Bobby Labonte fans probably hate me.”
The fender-banging and door-slamming proved entertaining and crowd-pleasing, but the repercussions left a lot of work for Camping World SRX Series co-founder Ray Evernham and his team of mechanics.
“I think we had another good show tonight but, as race director, I’ve got a couple of phone calls to make to some people this week where I’ll have to say, ‘Look, this is for fun.’ We’ve got a lot of torn-up cars, but it sounds like the fans like it,” Evernham said.
“We should’ve put Kody in that practice car to begin with. It looked like he liked it better than his original car. I knew when both of them got to the front, when Kody was on the bottom and Tony was on the top, I knew it was going to be pretty exciting. I thought Kody had it won on the last lap because I thought he was rolling the bottom good enough to slide up in front of Tony.
“I thought it was great, but I’ve got to wait what and see the fans think.”
After two straight dirt-track races at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway and Eldora, the Camping World SRX Series returns to pavement for its fourth race July 3 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana. Bobby Santos III is the local all-star who will join the Camping World SRX Series regulars at the .686-mile asphalt oval near Indianapolis. Returning to the Camping World SRX Series for a second straight week is Scott Speed. The Manteca, California-native finished sixth on the dirt at Eldora and now he will test his mettle on asphalt.
After Lucas Oil Raceway, the Camping World SRX Series ventures north to Slinger Speedway on July 10 before its season finale July 17 at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
50-Lap Feature Results
(Note: Starting lineup was based on average finishing positions in Heat Race Nos. 1-2.)
1. Tony Stewart (Started 1st, but went to back after pace laps; led laps 44-45, 47-50)
2. Kody Swanson (Started 9th; led laps 26-33, 34-35, 46; completed 50/50 laps)
3. Helio Castroneves (Started 4th; completed 50/50 laps)
4. Marco Andretti (Started 3rd; completed 50/50 laps)
5. Paul Tracy (Started 2nd; led laps 1-25, 34-35; completed 50/50 laps)
6. Scott Speed (Started 6th; completed 50/50 laps)
7. Tony Kanaan (Started 10th; completed 50/50 laps)
8. Ernie Francis Jr. (Started 8th; completed 50/50 laps)
9. Willy T. Ribbs (Started 12th; completed 50/50 laps)
10. Michael Waltrip (Started 11th; completed 50/50 laps)
11. Bobby Labonte (Started 5th; completed 45/50 laps)
12. Bill Elliott (Started 7th; completed 45/50 laps)
Camping World SRX Series Championship Standings (after Round 3 of 6):
1. Tony Stewart (129 points)
2. Helio Castroneves (96 points, -33)
3. Ernie Francis Jr. (90 points, -39)
4. Marco Andretti (80 points, -49)
5. Bobby Labonte (75 points, -54)
6. Paul Tracy (64 points, -65)
7. Michael Waltrip (57 points, -72)
8. Bill Elliott (46 points, -83)
9. Tony Kanaan (45 points, -84)
10. Willy T. Ribbs (38 points, -91)
Note: Points are awarded in both heats and the feature. In each heat, the winner receives a maximum of 12 points. Second place earns 11 points with every position in descending order receiving one fewer point, with the 12th-place finisher earning one point. Points increase in the feature, with the winner receiving 25 points, second place 22 points, third place 20 points, fourth place 18 points, fifth place 16 points, sixth place 14 points, seventh place 12 points, eighth place 10 points, ninth place eight points, 10th place six points, 11th place four points and 12th place two points.
About Camping World SRX Series
The Camping World SRX Series was created by a team consisting of Sandy Montag and The Montag Group, George Pyne, NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief and team owner Ray Evernham, and legendary driver Tony Stewart. The Montag Group leads business operations and Evernham oversees all racing operations. Pyne is a member of the Board and serves as an advisor. For more information, please visit www.SRXracing.com.
Brian Hatano is a veteran automotive journalist and former editor of Car Craft, Petersen’s Drag Racing, Sport Compact Car and Motorcyclist magazines.