From Dan Beaver / nbcsports.com
Chase Elliott won his second Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) race in as many starts and snapped Tony Stewart’s perfect record on dirt tracks Saturday night at Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio. The victory was also the second season finale won by Elliott after finishing just ahead of Stewart at Nashville Fairgrounds last July.
This time they raced on dirt instead of asphalt, but Elliott and Stewart put on another great show in the closing 10 laps, swapping the lead several times as they the maneuvered high, then low and threw a series of sliders at one another.
In the end, Elliott made the high line work and edged in front of Stewart. With the lead established, he dropped back into the low groove and stretched his advantage while Stewart fell into the clutches of Matt Kenseth.
“[It was special] to sit there and race on dirt with one of my heroes, Tony Stewart, and throw a couple of sliders with him,” Elliott told CBS Sports’ Matt Yocum. “Obviously this is a little different than the open wheel stuff – knowing how good he is at this stuff and being able to dice it up with him. I actually thought he was better than me on the run before and I was able to watch him on the top and finally get a couple of things going there.”
Stewart had a tough time in the heats and was forced to roll off the grid deep in the pack. When the feature began, few believed he would challenge for the win – including Stewart.
“I can’t run with these guys tonight for some reason,” Stewart said before the feature. “We were really good in practice, but I’ve hit the fence in Turn 2, I’ve hit the fence in the backstretch and hit everything but the pace car so far. We have thrown the kitchen sink at it and made every adjustment, we’re allowed to make and we’ll see if we can get going forward here.”
His words were almost prophetic as he took the lead near the end of the race that was shortened by about 30 laps to fit the two-hour television window.
Kenseth finished third to match his career-best in the series. He also finished third in his debut at Nashville two weeks ago.
Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top five.
As the leaders battled to win the race, the focus was also on the 2022 championship.
Marco Andretti entered the season finale with an eight-point lead over Ryan Newman, but it appeared Newman’s dirt track experience would prevail. That is until Andretti got into Newman on a restart and crashed both cars. The points’ contenders each sustained damage in that incident and in a second late-race accident.
After the race, Andretti said the incident broke his wrist, but he powered through the pain and finished ninth, one position behind Newman in the final rundown. Andretti won the championship by two points.
“The cool thing about this is if you get damage you can still play and stay on the lead lap,” Andretti told Willie T. Ribbs. “I broke my wrist in that last little thing. I got my thumb caught in the wheel, so that was a painful couple of laps. I just wanted to cover and finish right where I needed to finish, and we were able to do that. This [car] was pretty robust tonight.”
Last week the SRX drivers tore up almost every piece of equipment, so for the season finale at Sharon there were no backups available. One might think that would make them cautious.
One would be wrong.
Barely two laps into the first 12-minute heat, Paul Tracy ran into the back of Newman and then pushed up into Michael Waltrip. Tracy’s and Waltrip’s cars looped in front of the onrushing field. Collected in the incident were Ryan Blaney, Kenseth, Tony Kanaan and Elliott.
Newman escaped the incident and scored his first heat win in the SRX series. Elliott won Heat 2 after racing side-by-side with Dave Blaney for most of the 12-minute race.
The race was billed as a battle of father versus son, much like last year’s season-ender that featured Chase beating his father Bill Elliott.
Finishing seventh in a battered car, Ryan prevailed over his father Dave, when the elder statesman sustained damage late in the race. The SRX battle at Sharon was also a matchup between close friends Elliott and Blaney, who flew to the race together after practicing and qualifying for the M&Ms 400 at Pocono Raceway earlier in the day.
1. Chase Elliott, 2. Tony Stewart, 3. Matt Kenseth, 4. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 5. Bobby Labonte, 6. Greg Biffle, 7. Ryan Blaney. 8. Ryan Newman, 9. Marco Andretti, 10. Paul Tracy, 11. Tony Kanaan, 12. Dave Blaney, 13. Michael Waltrip
1. Ryan Newman, 2. Michael Waltrip, 3. Marco Andretti, 4. Bobby Labonte, 5. Tony Kanaan, 6. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 7. Chase Elliott, 8. Tony Stewart, 9. Greg Biffle, 10. Dave Blaney, 11. Paul Tracy, 12. Ryan Blaney, 13. Matt Kenseth
1. Chase Elliott, 2. Tony Kanaan, 3. Bobby Labonte, 4. Ryan Newman, 5. Dave Blaney, 6. Marco Andretti, 7. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 8. Paul Tracy, 9. Tony Stewart, 10. Michael Waltrip, 11. Greg Biffle, DNS: Ryan Blaney and Matt Kenseth
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