By Jerry Jordan, Editor
The Camping World SRX Racing Series may be fun for drivers and fans but it’s definitely no game as the drivers in the series formed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart are serious about wins. With two races left, the battle for the points lead is becoming even more intense between Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman and this week it all goes down at I-55 Speedway in Pevely, Mo.
Until this past weekend at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Newman had held the lead for the first three races of the six-race series. That changed when Labonte got out front and took the win. Labonte quipped that, just like Newman, “I really want to win, too.”
“Whether I’ve got a target on my back doesn’t matter, I know he wants to win and so do I,” Labonte told Kickin’ the Tires this week. “So, we will figure that out in a couple of races, I guess. But, yeah, I am jonesing for it, so hopefully, I will be able to be the one on top.”
Newman finished Nashville in sixth after battling an ill-handling racecar throughout the night. It was something noted immediately after getting out of the car and realizing he was out of the points lead.
“Not a good points day,” he said.
I-55 Speedway will mark the first dirt race that the SRX Series has raced on this year and that will definitely make things interesting. As always, there’s a local favorite and this week that distinction goes to Ken Schrader, who is a world-class dirt racer and the I-55 track owner. Asked if he’d figured out a way to cheat up one of his late models to get the feel for the SRX cars, he said no but it wouldn’t matter if he did because it would take long for the expert drivers in the field to get the racing feel behind the wheel.
“We don’t have any tricks, it’s hard to get tricks on these guys,” Schrader said. “There’s no real home track advantage, you know, just having a little bit of a dirt advantage but like we talked about earlier, two heat races and there is no advantage. We’re going into this thing the same as everybody else.”
Another driver rejoining the field this week will be NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start, Hailie Deegan. It’s her second race this year with SRX and her past dirt racing experience might give her an edge. She said she was excited to get back to the SRX series on a dirt track because her run last year resulted in a second-place finish behind Stewart.
Also making a return is Ernie Francis Jr., who had a difficult outing in the season-opener at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway. Francis finished 11th after car troubles and then when to South Boston, where he and Stewart were in each other’s faces at the end of the night. He said that just proved the intensity of the series and showed that just because Stewart may be running the show, he isn’t getting cut any slack.
“We had our moment there, it lasted about five minutes and then about 10 minutes later we were shaking hands and laughing about it,” Francis said. “We’re all good now, I’ve talked to him over the phone a few times since that weekend.
“At the end of the day, it was aggressive racing out there throughout the entire field and some feathers got ruffled. I think this week will be more of the same.”
It may all be good now, but the drivers and SRX Racing CEO Don Hawk all confirmed that afterward there was a sit-down amongst all of the participants to get clear guidance on what is expected on the track. Hawk said it was a “family reunion” of sorts and that the conversation may have started with Stewart but everyone was involved.
“You know me, I am going to shoot you straight, we had the dad talk, the father talk, the uncle talk, the brother-in-law talk, the brother talk, we had a family reunion,” Hawk said. “I am telling you, here’s what is neat about it, Tony Stewart didn’t dominate the conversation. Every single driver in that motorcoach spoke up, at least, once and it was a great dialogue and a great interaction followed by what I believe was a great car race.”
Labonte agreed that the talk was productive and each driver is responsible for themselves on the racetrack. While aggressive racing is okay, there is a limit to tearing up racecars to mete retaliation for on-track squabbles.
“We are racing hard and we don’t mind tearing cars up if you are racing but don’t tear cars up for no reason,” Labonte said. “I think that is what, kind of, came out of that but I agree that I like what Tony said and what Don said. Everybody spoke up about ‘hey, I shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘maybe, I should have done this better’ and everybody is still racing hard. We have seen that the whole time. It’s just that nobody is tearing up stuff that doesn’t need to be torn up, I guess, and pay attention, ay attention to where you are at on the racetrack is a big thing, too.”
The SRX Racing Series will take the green flag Saturday night at 8 p.m. EST and can be viewed live on CBS and the Paramount+ streaming app.