Just when Tony Stewart looked like he was out of contention to collect back-to-back championships in the Camping World SRX Series, the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion responded with an epic rebound, securing a dominant victory at I-55 Speedway.
The 51-year-old entered Saturday’s event – the second-to-last event of the season — sitting fourth-place in series point standings, just 31 points behind Bobby Labonte, with ultra-consistent drivers in Marco Andretti and Ryan Newman sitting in between.
Being the absolute legend that he is on the dirt, it’s only appropriate that Stewart’s championship rebound begins in the first of two dirt races that make up the final two weeks of the series’ second season.
The climb for Stewart began early, with the NASCAR Hall of Famer moving from fourth-place into the runner-up spot in the evening’s first heat race, which set him well on his way to closing the gap in the standings.
A full-field invert meant that Stewart would start the second heat from 11th. In the heat, which saw significantly more green flag laps than the first, Stewart put on a masterclass, maneuvering his way from the back to the front, to capture the victory, securing him the top starting spot for the feature, easily.
For a lack of a better term, Stewart then proceeded to take the field to school, while also hoping that the students don’t learn enough to beat him in the end. Alas, they didn’t, although it wasn’t for a lack of effort, as Marco Andretti, Ken Schrader, and Ryan Newman were among those to take a shot at Stewart in the closing laps.
Marco Andretti – who leaves Pevely, Missouri as the Camping World SRX points leader — earned his third consecutive runner-up finish, once again coming up just short to Stewart in the closing laps, despite at least 10 attempts at a final restart.
The victory is the fourth in the Camping World SRX Series for Tony Stewart, three of which have come on the series’ only three dirt races to date.
Ken Schrader and Ryan Newman battled for the third spot throughout the final laps, with the partial owner of I-55 Speedway getting the nod for the podium, with Ryan Newman – winner earlier this season at Stafford Speedway — finishing in fourth.
Unofficially, Greg Biffle picked up another top-five finish in fifth place. Ernie Francis Jr, Michael Waltrip, Paul Tracy, Hailie Deegan, and Tony Kanaan rounded out the top-10.
Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 11th through 13th. However, despite a record number of incidents and restarts throughout the final 10 laps of the event, every single car finished the event, and was on the lead lap at that.
Calling Saturday’s event a ‘slugfest’ is probably the most accurate assessment possible, as there were multiple drivers who struggled mightily trying to get acclimated to the dirt surface, which included some wrecks.
Paul Tracy, Michael Waltrip, and Matt Kenseth all finished the event with major bodywork missing, after being involved in multiple incidents throughout the two heats and 70-lap main event.
Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay also struggled immensely throughout the evening, which only got worse as the race entered its final 10 laps – where only green-flag laps count — as both drivers got involved in multiple accidents over the last two handfuls of laps.
Heading into the season finale of the second season of the Camping World SRX Series at Sharon Speedway, Marco Andretti leads the point standings by seven points over Ryan Newman and 14 points over Tony Stewart.
Bobby Labonte, who entered the penultimate race of the season as the points leader, enters the finale in fourth place, 18 points behind Andretti.
UNOFFICIAL SRX Results – I-55 Speedway:
Race Results: Camping World SRX Series Race 5 at I-55 Raceway