Wednesday, March 29, 2023

SRX Takeaways from Stafford Motor Speedway: Ryan Newman’s racing recovery is complete

Ryan Newman doesn’t remember the part of the 2020 Daytona 500 that matters for the rest of us. Coming to the checkered with sparks flying, lying on his roof, millions at the track and watching around the country wondered if they just witnessed NASCAR’s first racing fatality in almost 20 years.

Would you ever have imagined, watching that, seeing Newman in this type of victory lane on national television just two years later?

It was his biggest victory to date since returning to the driver’s seat, winning the SRX main event at Stafford Motor Speedway in a thrilling late-race battle with old boss Tony Stewart. It’s the sixth main event winner in the last six SRX races as parity continues to reign supreme.

Where does Newman go from here? That’s just one of five storylines buzzing as we leave Stafford Motor Speedway at the SRX halfway point.

Newman makes it all the way back

Reliving that wreck reminds you just how much of a miracle it was Newman walked away. Diagnosed with a bruised brain, he was out of the hospital in a week and back in a Cup car within three months. 

Unfortunately, the rigors of NASCAR racing and the changing dynamics of the sport took their toll from there and Roush Fenway Racing dumped Newman when Brad Keselowski bought into the organization at the end of the 2021 season.

So, Newman took a chance on SRX, a six-race summer shot to have some fun and prove he can still drive at a high level. At Stafford, he methodically moved through the field on a night it was tough to pass, taking the lead for the first time with six laps remaining. It was a little contact at the perfect time, a move Marco Andretti knew was coming — and still couldn’t stop.

“Overdrove,” Andretti said of Newman’s bump to the front. “Wheel-hopped it at the end.”

That was the opening Newman needed to both earn the victory and build on his point lead over Tony Stewart (up to 11 three races in). More importantly, it was a big life moment not lost on a driver who often jokes he’s living on bonus time.

“To have my daughters here was so special,” he said. “To beat the best between Marco (Andretti) and Paul (Tracy), Tony (Stewart) and all the guys that are a part of this deal. It’s so special to be a part of it and then to beat them.”

Could this win mean another NASCAR shot for Newman? Ideally, Cup is the big prize, but one hopes some Camping World Truck Series owners were watching. He’d make a phenomenal addition to that division should the right opportunity come.

Paul Tracy, a SRX winner?

It almost happened, one week after Tracy finished dead last in all three heats at South Boston Speedway. The former IndyCar star who’s best known in SRX for causing the wrecks still had himself a moment, contact with Greg Biffle sending the No. 69 skidding through the grass in the main event.

This time, Tracy held on, then held his own after gaining a SRX-high eight positions in the first two heats. A third-place main event finish was his best in nine career SRX races as, for the first time in ages, the driver backed up his Bad Boy image with raw speed.

“That was like a win for me,” Tracy said. “I struggled so bad here last year. Just overdriving the car on entry… I’ll take it, man. I was just dying for a podium finish.”

Big names making 2022 debuts left with disappointing results

Hailie Deegan started this SRX race from the pole. Behind her, Justin Marks rode off fifth, a last-minute addition as the co-owner of NASCAR’s up-and-coming Trackhouse Racing Team came out of retirement. The hope was both he and Deegan could energize the series, running out front with popular fan bases. 

But neither Deegan nor Marks got the results they were hoping for. Never leading a lap, Deegan proved invisible most of the night and wound up sixth in the main event. As for Marks, he ended up ninth in the main event and lost a total of 11 spots through the three races: only Bill Elliott (-16) did worse. But, like Deegan, he walked out with a smile on his face.

“I’m the least experienced short track driver in the field, probably,” said Marks, whose lone NASCAR victory came on a road course at Mid-Ohio (Xfinity Series). “It was really cool being side by side with Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, all these guys I grew up watching that, honestly, motivated me to pursue a career in racing.”

Doug Coby, revisited

Doug Coby, the first SRX main event winner, was in attendance Saturday night to cheer on this year’s Stafford Motor Speedway ringer: Matt Hirschman. Unfortunately, Hirschman didn’t fare so well, finishing no better than fifth. It leaves Coby as the only local All-Star to win a main event a year and a half into the series.

It was an impressive accomplishment against the likes of three-time Cup champion Stewart, four-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves and other superstars. And Coby should have gotten a bigger opportunity from it, period.

The win did lead to a one-race Truck deal at Bristol Motor Speedway. But since that race, where Coby finished 12th, the 42-year-old finds himself sidelined as younger drivers take priority in a sponsorship-driven sport. As SRX grows, it would behoove them to link up with teams in other series to provide the ringers some sort of reward for beating the best.

Coby remains in a class of his own and the sold-out crowd made their love known for Coby, several coming up after the race to ask why he wasn’t in a SRX car.

Odds ‘N’ Ends

Tony Stewart spoke out this week to the driving corps about the SRX carnage that caused one mechanic, Kevin Ridley, to work 32 straight hours to fix the cars. The end result? Not one caution for a major racing incident at Stafford… Bobby Labonte fought through a grass save of his own to lead for the first time in SRX competition, win the second heat race and finish fifth in the main event. His six straight top 5s in mains are a series record… Justin Marks said Saturday he’ll be talking to Helio Castroneves “in short order” about the Daytona 500. His new part-time No. 91 team was built for international drivers to get a shot at NASCAR.

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