Tony Stewart survives challenge from Hailie Deegan as he dominates to win at Eldora in SRX

SRX / Wayne Reigle)

Tony Stewart showed his speed at his own track. 

The owner of Eldora Speedway, he became the first driver ever in three seasons of his own Superstar Racing Experience series to sweep both of the heat races that set the field for the main event, despite the field being inverted before the second. And then he went on to win the main event.

No driver could match his speed in the heats or the beginning of the main. But he did get face a challenge from Hailie Deegan in the closing laps of the race. 

But, as the track slicked up throughout the 75-lap feature, Deegan used the high line to great effect on a restart with 18 laps to go and moved into second place, which she held during two more cautions. Both times she started behind Stewart in the top lane but wasn’t able to get up to the dominant track owner.

She did manage to impress Tony Stewart though, finishing .75-seconds behind him. Stewart was full of praise after getting out of his car to take the checkered flag.

“That’s the one thing people don’t realize, is Hailie Deegan is one hell of a dirt driver,” Stewart said. “She gets to second, she’s going to put pressure on. So just had to try to get some clean laps on restarts and get in a rhythm again and get going.”

As series owner, Stewart commented on the carnage of the race as well. After a clean race at Berlin Raceway in Michigan, Thursday night’s event at Eldora featured seven cautions during the main event.

The worst carnage happened early on in the first heat, though. Austin Dillon overheated after losing his radiator hose, causing his engine to blow, and he hit the wall hard, collecting Tony Kanaan, Chase Briscoe, Hailie Deegan, Marco Andretti, and Matt Kenseth as they struggled to stop on the slick track.

“Our guys got a little spoiled last week, not having to fix much stuff,” Stewart said with a laugh. “They’ve got a tough grind this week getting ready to go to Missouri.”

The series heads to Lucas Oil Speedway for its finale and championship decider next week.

“Super fortunate that we get to go to Forrest Lucas’ personal playground,” Stewart joked. “Going to have a great time there next week. It was awesome to win here at home.”

SRX / Wayne Reigle)

As Stewart climbed the fence in celebration, Hailie Deegan – who competed in a backup car after being involved in the Heat 1 pileup – earned the most cheers.

“Oh man, I don’t know what’s happened the last couple of weeks or what’s changed, but I’ve been lacking a little confidence the last couple of months,” she admitted. “I feel like the last two or three races it’s starting to come back and I’m starting to get those finishes, starting to have more speed, and it’s just all coming together. I’ve been working really, really hard the last couple of weeks and it’s paying off.”

As for running in a backup car, she admitted it wasn’t easy to get used to, especially as a shorter driver.

“Yeah, it was a little uncomfortable in there, my left leg is definitely a little numb – usually you’ve got a footboard on the bottom to rest your feet on, that did not exist and my legs were floating up the whole time trying to control the pedals and it was just so much going on,” she explained.

“Man, I swear, I heard five laps to go, and those five laps felt like the longest five laps of my life,” Deegan concluded with a laugh.

Besides Deegan, Marco Andretti was given the other of the two SRX backup cars. He finished sixth. Kenny Schrader and Chase Briscoe did not receive backup cars, but their crews were able to make repairs to return them to the race after about forty laps had passed in the main event. Austin Dillon and Tony Kanaan had too much damage to reenter the race, despite extensive work and inspection by series CEO Don Hawk.

After the carnage in the first heat, the seven cautions in the main event largely came out for single-car incidents – although there were enough of those not to require the SRX Fun Flag, which bunches up the field after long green-flag runs.

One gimmick that the series took full advantage of was radio calls from the broadcasters to a driver battling for position during green-flag running. This time it was Stewart who had to talk to Joey Logano in the early stages of the race as he pulled out a comfortable advantage.

Only NHRA Ron Capps had to head to the garage for repairs for damage sustained during the main event, who hit the wall straight-on after spinning fully around while battling for position. Capps was able to return to the track, but finished tenth, the worst of all the cars running.

Ninth-place Brad Keselowski, a full-time driver who entered the race second in points with just a one-point advantage over Marco Andretti, never had to leave the track but had a myriad of self-spins. He sustained damage from the wall in the second heat race, but actually worked on the car alongside his crew to make repairs with a headlamp strapped to his face.

Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte, and Matt Kenseth scored a top five finish, while Marco Andretti finished fifth. Briscoe and Schrader are credited with a seventh and eighth place respectively after returning to the track.

The SRX series returns for the sixth and final race of the short summer season. It’s Thursday Night Thunder once again at 9 pm ET on ESPN on a dirt track, this time at the .375-mile Lucas Oil Speedway.

SRX Series Round 5
Eldora Speedway
Main Event Results

1. Tony Stewart
2. Hailie Deegan
3. Ryan Newman
4. Bobby Labonte
5. Matt Kenseth
6. Marco Andretti
7. Chase Briscoe
8. Ken Schrader
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Ron Capps
DNS. Tony Kanaan
DNS. Austin Dillon

Photos: SRX at Eldora Speedway Thursday August 10, 2023

Owen Johnson