Tony Stewart has spent more time than most car owners in Victory Lane at Knoxville Raceway, but Saturday night it was his turn to visit as a driver. The Columbus, Indiana native won against a star-studded Camping World Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) field. National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee, Guy Forbrook, was Tony’s crew chief tonight. He added a win to his 89 career sprint car tallies with his wrench at the famed half-mile.
Stewart led the 50-lap feature to green early over Ernie Francis Jr. and former Knoxville Late Model Nationals winner Scott Bloomquist. Bloomquist passed Francis for second on lap four before the first caution of the race flew for debris. Unfortunately, for former Indy car pilot Paul Tracy, his night ended at that point with an overheating engine.
The restart saw Bloomquist take second on the restart and set his sights on Stewart. The next caution flew for a spun Brian Brown, who collected four-time Indy 500 winner, Helio Castroneves. Both would restart.
Michael Waltrip used the double-file restart to go from fifth to third, while Hailie Deegan shot up to fourth. A Brown spin eight laps in set up another restart that saw Deegan got from fourth to second. Waltrip would work back by Deegan for second on lap ten, and he started gaining on Stewart.
Using the low side of turn four, Waltrip would take the point on lap 14. While Waltrip rode the low side, Stewart maintained a groove in the middle of the track to retake the lead on lap 21. Francis returned to the top three on lap 24 with a pass of Deegan.
Bloomquist was working his way back up through the field after getting four wheels above the cushion earlier, but a top five run ended when Castroneves tapped his rear-end, causing him to spin. It would prove to be the last caution.
Francis got under Waltrip for second, and Castroneves moved into third. Deegan moved by Waltrip for fourth on lap 34. Deegan’s charge continued as she came on late, passing Castroneves for third with seven to go and working by Francis on the last lap for second.
Stewart cruised the last 20 laps to win ahead of Deegan, Francis, hard-charger Castroneves and Waltrip. Bobby Labonte, Marco Andretti, Brown, Bloomquist and Willy T. Ribbs rounded out the top ten. Stewart and Bloomquist won heat races.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in Victory Lane at Knoxville (as a driver),” said Stewart. “This is where I’ve watched Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser, and the greatest of the greats in sprint car racing. This is the place I’ve always wanted to be, so that’s pretty cool. This is the ‘Sprint Car Capital of the World.’ We’ve been to two different surfaces in two weeks, and Ray Evernham built one hell of a racecar. I think we saw that tonight. This place is challenging and it’s tough. I thought if Michael Waltrip beats me on a dirt track, I’m going to have to go through therapy for three straight weeks. Michael ran a hell of a race and so did Ernie Francis…two guys that don’t have a lot of dirt experience.”
“Honestly, that was so much fun,” said Deegan. “My goal coming into this race was proving to everyone that I deserved to be here. I feel like we did that tonight. Running second to Tony Stewart is a huge accomplishment. These cars are so much fun. I felt like I ran a clean race, got around the bottom, stayed consistent and ran my line.”
“It wasn’t too bad for my second ever dirt race,” said Francis. “We were just kind of riding around there and saving our tires as much as we could. The car wasn’t as good in the feature as it was in the heat races. I was trying to keep the back end underneath me. I was trying to get to Tony’s bumper to get by him, and it was fun battling with Hailie. I was happy with that one. I can’t wait to get to the next race.”
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Camping World Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) Results
Heat one (started), 12 minutes: 1. Tony Stewart (1); 2. Marco Andretti (2); 3. Hailie Deegan (4); 4. Ernie Francis Jr. (6); 5. Paul Tracy (11); 6. Bill Elliott (5); 7. Brian Brown (3); 8. Bobby Labonte (10); 9. Helio Castroneves (9); 10. Scott Bloomquist (12); 11. Willy T. Ribbs (7); 12. Michael Waltrip (8)
Heat two (started), 12 minutes: 1. Scott Bloomquist (3); 2. Ernie Francis Jr. (9); 3. Michael Waltrip (1); 4. Tony Stewart (12); 5. Hailie Deegan (10); 6. Bill Elliott (7); 7. Helio Castroneves (4); 8. Brian Brown (6); 9. Bobby Labonte (5); 10. Marco Andretti (11); 11. Willy T. Ribbs (2); 12. Paul Tracy (8)
A main (started), 50 Laps: 1. Tony Stewart (1); 2. Hailie Deegan (3); 3. Ernie Francis Jr. (2); 4. Helio Castroneves (9); 5. Michael Waltrip (7); 6. Bobby Labonte (10); 7. Marco Andretti (6); 8. Brian Brown (8); 9. Scott Bloomquist (4); 10. Willy T. Ribbs (12); 11. Bill Elliott (5); 12. Paul Tracy (11). Lap Leaders: Stewart 1-13, Waltrip 14-20, Stewart 21-50. Hard-charger: Castroneves.