How Marco Andretti Covered the SRX Field at Slinger Speedway

How Marco Andretti Covered the SRX Field at Slinger Speedway

07/12/2021

Notes, thoughts and observations from Saturday’s Camping World Superstar Racing Experience race at Slinger (Wisconsin) Speedway, the fifth of SRX’s six races in its inaugural season:

In the 1995 movie Bad Boys, Miami detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) jokes about how bad his partner, Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), drives. That is, until the climactic ending scene when Lawrence drives the wheels off their car during a chase with the bad guy.

When Marco Andretti crossed the finish line in Saturday’s 151-lap race, that movie clip flashed through my mind.

“That’s how you’re supposed to drive. From now on, that’s how you drive,” Smith screams at Lawrence.

And that’s exactly how the grandson of legendary racer Mario Andretti and son of team owner and former racing great Michael Andretti drove, holding off hard-charging 17-year-old—yes, you read that right, 17 years old—Luke Fenhaus, a very successful and popular local fan favorite at Slinger, taking the checkered flag by a .194-second margin of victory.

Andretti passed Fenhaus after a late-race caution, setting up a green-white-checker finish that the standing-room only crowd of more than 10,000 witnessed in-person, as well as the large national TV audience on CBS.

“Obviously, the caution gave me another shot at it,” Andretti said. “So I feel bad for Luke from that stand point. He drove a heck of a race. I know it’s not a popular win—I’m sure they wanted to see their guy win—but I tried to do it as clean as possible. I was able to do it without touching him, and he was pretty clean to me, too. I’m proud of him. He has a heck of a future ahead of him.”

The final lap at Slinger Speedway did not disappoint. 👏👏

Marco Andretti wins his first race after holding off local legend Luke Fenhaus! pic.twitter.com/kBsf8HZ0mK

By beating the Fenhaus, who hails from nearby Wausau, Wisc., it may not have been the most popular win for the 34-year-old Andretti, beating the local hero (he won Tuesday night’s Slinger Nationals to qualify for Saturday’s SRX race), but it proved to be one of the most satisfying triumphs in his long racing career.

“I’m smiling ear-to-ear,” the third generation member of the famous Andretti racing family said. “I had so much fun. I don’t care where I finished at the end, this is one of the most fun races of my career. To get the win, a couple wins tonight (he also won the first of two heat races before the main event) was that much more special.”

It is the first career win for Andretti in a car that has fenders and a roof. He is taking most of this season off from IndyCar racing, competing instead on a variety of other circuits, including SRX.

Fenhaus finished second in Saturday’s race, while NASCAR Hall of Famer and SRX co-founder Tony Stewart rounded out the podium finish with a third-place showing.

“He’s been pushing me all season, so I’m not taking any more crap from (Stewart),” Andretti laughed, adding he was good-naturedly concerned Stewart would still honor his invitation to spend the night at Stewart’s house after the race.

National Exposure

Saturday marked the first time in high-banked Slinger’s storied 74-year history that the paved asphalt “fastest quarter-mile oval” has ever hosted a nationally-televised race, as the event was carried live by CBS.

And here’s an irony: for all the hundreds of race tracks he’s competed in throughout his storied nearly 40-year racing career, this was the first time Stewart has ever visited and raced at Slinger.

“I’ve never been here, never seen it before,” Stewart said. “I remember back in the day Matt Kenseth talking about how much he liked the place, but I never seen it. It was very close to what I envisioned it in my head.”

It also set Stewart up for the conclusion of the six-race, six-week season finale this Saturday at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Stewart, the only driver to win more than one race thus far in the first five races of the season, remains the SRX points leader with a 38-point margin over second-ranked and Trans-Am specialist Ernie Francis Jr.

With his win, Andretti moves up to third in the standings, 44 points behind Stewart, leaving him and Francis as the only drivers still in contention with Stewart for the inaugural SRX championship. The next three closest drivers in the ranks have been eliminated: Bobby Labonte (-54), Helio Castroneves (-59) and Tony Kanaan (-60).

“My buddy Marco winning the race and us having another podium finish and us gaining some more points in the standings with one race to go is a big deal to me,” said Stewart, a two-time winner already in the Camping World SRX Series. “The first five weeks of this series have been awesome. To go to three totally different racetracks—the three paved tracks are totally different from each other, and then two totally different dirt tracks—it’s been a lot of fun. To sit there each weekend and see how much fun everybody is having, that’s the payoff for all this. It’s payoff for all of us as drivers.”

Local Knowledge Goes A Long Way

Both Andretti and Stewart were quite impressed with Fenhaus’ ability. The young Wisconsin pilot led a race-high 92 laps.

“I was running third much of the night and I learned a lot from just being behind him and watching him and how he handled his race car,” Andretti said.

Stewart was equally complimentary.

“To get ready for this race, I watched some YouTube videos and Luke Fenhaus was the star of a lot of them,” Stewart said. “Getting to spend the day with that kid has been the highlight of my day, to be honest. I meet this kid and in five minutes, I really liked the kid. He’s the most composed 17-year-old kid I’ve ever seen.

“There’s kids in the (NASCAR Camping World) Truck Series and Xfinity Series that don’t have the composure that this guy has. I hope somebody will give him a shot—even if it’s a one-race deal—to give him a shot at something, to give him a crack at it and see if he can make a name.”

Gee, we know of at least one guy who has the wherewithal to give Fenhaus a crack: Stewart is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR Cup and Xfinity. If anyone can make it happen for Fenhaus, “Smoke” can, for sure.

Get Outta’ My Way

Paul Tracy continues to live up to his reputation in the series as hitting virtually everything he can.

He damaged part of the front suspension during the first heat race, underwent repairs and returned for the main event, only to get into another wreck that ended his night – and left SRX’s body men quite a bit of work to do before Nashville.

But Wait, There’s More

Filling in for IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan (had a prior commitment), Hailie Deegan finished fourth in what will likely be her last race as a teenager. She turns 20 on July 18. It was her second race in SRX, having previously finished second to Stewart at Knoxville, Iowa, three weeks ago. “It’s been so much fun. I love it.,” said Deegan, who will race again this coming Saturday in the season finale at Nashville. “The SRX series is great racing. Coming back to short-track racing reminds me of my (NASCAR) K&N West days and I just enjoy it so much. It brings back such good memories and some good racing. These cars are amazing, and I feel like there is a lot of great talent out here.” … Saturday’s race at Nashville will likely get a lot more attention. Not only is it the conclusion of the first season for SRX, defending NASCAR Cup champion Chase Elliott will be in the field, along with his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. Look for another sold-out event – and with the younger Elliott taking part, potentially the most-viewed race of the season on CBS. Father and son have raced together only once before: Oct. 20, 2013 in the Alabama Pro 125 Late Model race at South Alabama Speedway. Chase won and Bill finished fourth.

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Source: Read Full Article