Tony Stewart Has Clear Path to SRX Championship on Saturday Night at Nashville07/15/2021
The inaugural season for the Camping World Superstar Racing Experience concludes this Saturday night at Nashville’s Fairground Speedway (live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET).
And unless he gets knocked out early, it’s looking likely that NASCAR Hall of Famer and SRX co-founder Tony Stewart will win the series’ first championship.
No, there isn’t any favoritism being shown to Smoke.
Rather, he’s the benefactor of having the best overall performance record of all series regulars in the first five races of the six-race season, being the only driver with two wins (plus a third-place finish).
Stewart is one of three drivers remaining in contention for the championship. He holds a 38-point edge over Trans Am specialist Ernie Francis Jr., while this past Saturday’s winner at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin, IndyCar driver Marco Andretti, is 44 points behind Stewart heading into the title tilt.
The maximum number of points available to be earned by any driver is 49. With his big lead going into Saturday, Stewart needs just 12 points to clinch the crown.
Even if Stewart were to finish 10th in both heat races, as well as the feature race, he would still be the champion.
Now here’s where it gets interesting: SRX has a unique aspect, where even if Stewart wrecks in the opening heat and his car is disabled, he can go to one of the series’ back-up pool cars for the second heat (or if he wrecks in the second heat, he can still race in the main event in a back-up ride).
Bottom line, Stewart would have to DNF in all three of Saturday’s races to give Francis or Andretti a shot at wrestling the championship away. While not impossible, how likely would three DNFs be to happen?
Even though Stewart has three NASCAR Cup championships and one IRL title on his resume, he’s still excited about the possibility of being the first SRX champion, not so much for what he’s done this season, but more so what the series has done.
And how about this for an irony: it’s no secret that SRX is patterned after the old International Race of Champions (IROC) series, which ran from 1974 through 2006.
Care to guess who won the last IROC crown? None other than the man who will likely win the first SRX crown.
“The first five weeks have been awesome,” Stewart told Autoweek. “You see how much fun everybody’s had. And that’s the payoff for all this, to see how much fun these cars have been to drive and how easy it’s been for guys that aren’t used to them to figure them out on dirt and pavement.
“It’s not a stock car, it’s not a sports car, it’s not a TransAm car. It’s two guys (Evernham and former NASCAR crew chief Tony Eury Jr.) that sat there and said this is the idea we have, this is what we want to build and built a car that’s been fun to drive, that guys can go in there and lean on each other and doesn’t destroy them if you lean on each other a little bit.”
SRX has brought together some of the greatest drivers in various platforms of motorsports, including Stewart, NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Labonte and Bill Elliott, four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Greg Biffle, Paul Tracy and Michael Waltrip.
There has also been a smattering of local drivers who have been among the best of the best at places like Stafford (Conn.) Speedway (Doug Coby) and Slinger Speedway (17-year-old local hotfoot Luke Fenhaus).
And then there’s the ringers, including promising up-and-coming Hailie Deegan, who raced strongly at Slinger and returns for an encore at Nashville, as well as reigning NASCAR Cup champion Chase Elliott, who will join his father in Saturday’s SRX season finale at Nashville.
“We get a NASCAR star that gets to race with his dad this week, and I think that’s super cool,” Stewart said with a smile.
Even though he’s out of contention for the championship, Labonte echoes most of the other SRX regulars with his analysis of the inaugural season.
“I’ve had a lot of fun,” Labonte said. “There’s a lot of great racing out there. Yeah, we’re kind of tearing stuff up (illustrating the competitiveness and rivalries that have developed). But all in all, I mean, I’m having a good time. My heart rate’s up in the car, we’re giving it all we got, and we’re not just goofing off out there. It’s pretty damn serious.”
It’s pretty clear SRX has more than met expectations both from an in-person attendance and TV audience on live CBS broadcasts, making Evernham not only elated, but also wanting to finish the campaign with the best race thus far on Saturday night.
“We keep trying to put out the best form of motorsports entertainment we can,” Evernham told Autoweek. “Look,
it’s probably not the biggest prize or the biggest trophy they’re ever going to win, but they’re pretty darn competitive about this. And I know that at the end, they’re going to give the fans a good show. And, you know, right now we’ve got some real rivalries going on.
“I’ve had so many fans come up to me and tell me, ‘Hey, great show, we love that.’ And to me, that’s what it’s all about. Hopefully, the television fans have enjoyed it too.”
After taking a week or so off following Nashville, Evernham, Stewart and other top SRX officials will get together to review the inaugural season, as well as start planning for next season. Evernham previously told Autoweek that he anticipates the 2022 season will remain at six races, but that he hopes to have a different smattering of racing surfaces, namely two pavement ovals, two dirt ovals and something new to the mix, two road courses.
“There’s no better feeling than people asking you to come back,” Evernham said after this past Saturday’s penultimate race at Slinger. “There were 10,000 people here tonight standing all over the place. You know they liked the show. And if they continue to like the show, that tells me we’re doing the right stuff.”
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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