Tony Stewart drove from the back and fended off a challenge from local hero Kody Swanson to score his second win in the Camping World SRX Series Saturday night at Eldora Speedway.
The SRX series was created by Stewart and Ray Evernham to provide a platform for drivers from multiple disciplines to race in identically-prepared cars. It is patterned after the defunct International Race of Champions. In addition to being part owner of the series, Stewart also owns Eldora Speedway, making him the fan favorite each time he runs there.
Along with 10 fulltime drivers, a ringer who runs in only select events and a local hero are added to the lineup each week to make up the 12-car field. This week the local hero was Kody Swanson, who is the winningest driver in the USAC Silver Crown series with 31 victories and five championships.
The inaugural race at Stafford Speedway was won by that track’s local hero Doug Colby. Stewart won the second race at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway, one of two dirt tracks on the six-race schedule, by holding off a charge by Hailie Deegan, who was subbing for Tony Kanaan.
So the closing laps, came down to which storyline would repeat: the local hero besting the regulars, or Stewart proving his prowess on dirt after starting shotgun on the field after accidentally hitting the kill switch on the pace lap.
“Kody found the bottom,” Stewart said. “I couldn’t roll the bottom as good as he could. I was real dependent on being up top. I just think that’s what Eldora does. The complexion of the track changes in the race.”
— Camping World SRX Series (@SRXracing) June 27, 2021
The final seven laps featured a battle between Stewart and Swanson, after Stewart took the lead for the first time on Lap 44. Swanson, who was forced to race a backup car in the Main after a Heat 2 accident, wrestled the lead back on Lap 46 and for the final laps the two ran side-by-side through the corners. The top prevailed as Swanson could never get far enough ahead of Stewart to complete a slide job.
“I appreciate them letting me have a chance in the backup car,” Swanson said. “I hate to tear up their equipment – and I hate to lose, gosh darnit. I felt like we were really good in the middle of the race and the bottom just gave up a little bit – and the top of 1 and 2 got working. Once Tony got track position, it was hard to get back by him.”
Helio Castroneves in third and Marco Andretti in fourth followed them across the line.
But it was fifth-place Paul Tracy who created the most excitement. During the race, several drivers good-naturedly remarked on his level of aggression. By the time the checkers wave, much of that goodwill disappeared.
A Lap 45 incident eliminated Bobby Labonte from the race after Tracy spun him while racing for third.
“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 and I was running up top and decided I was going to cut to the bottom like Tony (Stewart) did and I 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 and he was having none of it.”
Bill Elliott was collected in that wreck and also retired for the third straight race.
Willy T. Ribbs made it known that Labonte wasn’t the only driver upset with Tracy.
“There was some banging,” Ribbs said. “Tracy, oh, it’s on baby. You got 11 guys who want you.”
The SRX Series is striving to show a unique personality, not the least of which is trash talking among the drivers.
The reason Swanson was forced into a backup car was the result of a Lap 3 accident in Heat 2 when Ernie Francis, Jr. spun Michael Waltrip.
Usually the trash talking is good natured, but as is often the case with sarcasm, it is tinged with a bit of truth.
“I reacted okay, but yellow guy, when he’s around you, you gotta know he’s gonna run into people,” Michael Waltrip told CBS reporter Matt Yocum after the incident. “He does it every race. … Yellow guy is Ernie. He runs into me a lot. People, not just me.”
Waltrip was actually collateral damage in an incident involving Francis and Tony Kanaan, who was making his debut on dirt.
“Not sure what happened,” Francis told Brad Daugherty. “I came off Turn 4, me and Kanaan got together and couldn’t get unlocked. He spun around on my front end and we were just along for the ride. I think Waltrip just slid in there and got piled up with the rest of us. I don’t think I took him out at all. He’s getting a little bit old and maybe didn’t see so well.”
Another innovation was a mid-race interview with Stewart during green flag conditions.
While being interviewed, Stewart called his pass on Andretti, much like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield fence before hitting a home run.
— Camping World SRX Series (@SRXracing) June 27, 2021
With half of the schedule in the books, the series head back to asphalt for Lucas Oil Raceway (July 3), Slinger (Wis.) Speedway (July 10) and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway (July 17).
Heat Race No. 1 (15 minutes, 24 laps, starting lineup determined by random draw): 1. Tony Stewart (4; led laps 13-17, 19-21, 23-24), 2. Helio Castroneves (3; led laps 18, 22), 3. Paul Tracy (9), 4. Marco Andretti (8), 5. Bobby Labonte (7), 6. Kody Swanson (2nd), 7. Ernie Francis Jr. (10), 8. Bill Elliott (6;), 9. Michael Waltrip (11), 10. Scott Speed (12), 11. Tony Kanaan (1st; led laps 1-12), 12. Willy T. Ribbs (5).
Heat Race No. 2 (15 minutes, 11 laps, starting order was invert of Heat 1 finish): 1. Marco Andretti (9; led laps 4-11), 2. Paul Tracy (10th), 3. Tony Stewart (12), 4. Scott Speed (3), 5. Bobby Labonte (8), 6. Helio Castroneves (11), 7. Bill Elliott (5), 8. Tony Kanaan (2), 9. Willy T. Ribbs (1; led laps 1-3), 10. Ernie Francis Jr. (6th), 11. Michael Waltrip (4), 12. Kody Swanson (7)
Feature (50 laps; starting lineup was based on finishing position in Heat Race No. 2): 1. Tony Stewart (1, but went to back after pace laps; led laps 44-45, 47-50) 50, 2. Kody Swanson (9; led laps 26-33, 34-35, 46) 50, 3. Helio Castroneves (4) 50, 4. Marco Andretti (3) 50, 5. Paul Tracy (2; led laps 1-25, 34-35) 50, 6. Scott Speed (6) 50, 7. Tony Kanaan (10) 50, 8. Ernie Francis, Jr. (8) 50, 9. Willy T. Ribbs (12) 50, 10. Michael Waltrip (11) 50, 11. Bobby Labonte (5) 45, 12. Bill Elliott (7) 45
Points Standings: 1. Tony Stewart (129), 2. Helio Castroneves (96), 3. Ernie Francis, Jr. (90) 4. Tony Kanaan (85)*, 5. Marco Andretti (80), 6. Bobby Labonte (75), 7. Paul Tracy (64), 8. Michael Waltrip (57), 9. Bill Elliott (46), 10. Willy T. Ribbs (38).
* Hailie Deegan earned points for Kanaan at Knoxville