SRX does battle on Missouri dirt in a ‘bittersweet’ final round of Thursday Night Thunder

SRX / Wayne Reigle)

The Superstar Racing Experience concludes at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, in a final showdown on the dirt. The sixth round will be the final Thursday Night Thunder event (9 pm ET on ESPN) this year.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” series owner Tony Stewart admitted. “Here we are on the eve of our last race of our season. Part of me is super excited because I think the crew guys are absolutely worn out from this year, but at the same time we’ve had a blast.”

“Definitely want to tip a hat to all those people in SRX, all those crew guys. We go out every night and take perfectly good race cars and unfortunately bring some of them back tore up. They keep their heads up,” he detailed, “and get us all fixed up for another great show next week.

“It’s been one of those seasons where there’ve been ups and downs and ebbs and flows and a little carnage – a little more carnage than normal – along the way,” Stewart added. 

He sits second in the points standings heading into the final round, 39 points behind championship leader Ryan Newman. 

Third place Marco Andretti is mathematically out of contention for the championship. 

Both Stewart and Newman are going to be challenged at Lucas Oil as they look to determine a champion, since neither have ever raced at the track.

“I can tell you from my side, I know the same amount of information as you do,” Stewart admitted. 

“And I think that’s kind of the best part about the scenario of Ryan and I racing for a championship is that we have never been there before, never competed there before and now we’re going to go settle a championship at a racetrack that we’re going into blind.”

“I think that’s going to make it kind of fun,” he summed it up.

Stewart definitely has the momentum on dirt after a dominant Eldora performance, but he’s got his work cut out to get the points necessary to secure the championship. 

Winning both heat races and the feature, which he did last week at Eldora Speedway, awards 49 points. Stewart will need to either win outright or come close while Newman runs at the back all night to even have a shot at winning.

Would he wreck Newman to get the championship in his own series?

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “We’ve been teammates for a long time, we’ve been friends for years. This is what you would consider an ideal situation, for both of us to be racing for a championship.”

“He’s got a pretty good points lead, but as we all know, anything can happen… If he all of a sudden gets spun around on the pace lap, you’ll know it was probably me, since that’s probably the best shot I’ve got since I won’t catch them once they drop the green,” he added with a smile. 

Newman did have a response for that, though.

“Well, you know, after he spins me out in the heat races, I can always take that 15-minute break and lock him into an outhouse and figure out some other way to handle the situation just due to my body size, you know,” he said, laughing. 

As for Newman, he’s just been enjoying the racing in the series.

“I’m really proud to be help be a part of this because when everyone is on a level playing field, it’s just fun racing across the board,” he explained.

“That makes it fun. When you’re competitive and you can race against each other at the same level, it makes it fun and equal across the board.”

“You have to adapt to a racecar and show your talents and how well you adapt,” he added. “And some of the best drivers in the world are doing what we do.”

As for the race itself, it’ll be on a relatively new .375-mile dirt track. It’s shorter than Eldora and faster, explained series CEO Don Hawk.

Hawk also explained one big change: a competition caution early in the race to remove some of the dirt buildup that plagued driver and car alike at Eldora. 

The seven series regular drivers – with Paul Tracey out having been indefinitely suspended after causing a wreck at the Motor Mile in the third round – are joined by five part-time stars.

That means Newman, Stewart, Andretti, Brad Keselowski, Bobby Labonte, Hailie Deegan, and Ken Schrader will be racing Helio Castroneves, Clint Bowyer, Kenny Wallace, and Ernie Francis Jr. 

Hawk also promised to bring in a dirt ringer for the final two races to replace Paul Tracey, and that’s Jonathan Davenport for Lucas Oil. He certainly fills that role, being a dirt racing superstar.

“JD was a big get,” Hawk said. “For the racing community, if you look at it from the dirt side, they’re all over it. A bunch of people in the dirt world are coming out just for that race. We’re looking forward to it. 

“But he’s going to have his hands full: there’s a lot of guys that can drive on dirt here and the SRX is a different kind of car, so it’s not going to be a runaway.”

Whether or not he can run away with the win, Davenport will be contributing towards a series record. 

“We broke another record this year, too,” Hawk added, “because when Davenport takes the green flag, in 2023 alone, 26 different drivers will have competed in SRX.”

SRX / Wayne Reigle)

06 Helio Castroneves
07 Clint Bowyer
1 Marco Andretti
5 Hailie Deegan
6 Brad Keselowski
14 Tony Stewart
18 Bobby Labonte
36 Kenny Wallace
39 Ryan Newman
49 Jonathan Davenport
52 Ken Schrader
99 Ernie Francis, Jr.

1. Ryan Newman 183pts
2. Tony Stewart 144pts (-39pts)
3. Marco Andretti 136pts (-47pts)
4. Brad Keselowski 133pts (-50pts)
5. Bobby Labonte 129pts (-54pts)
6. Hailie Deegan 124pts (-59pts)
7. Ken Schrader 117pts (-66pts)

Owen Johnson