PENSACOLA, Fla. — Just over a year ago, the green flag waved on the inaugural Superstar Racing Experience season at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
Six weeks in a row of Saturday night, short-track action took place, with five different winners crowned as the series made big splashes at local tracks around the country.
Now the SRX focuses on its second season of action, beginning this Saturday at the half-mile asphalt oval of Five Flags Speedway, which is best known for hosting the annual Snowball Derby late model race.
Twelve drivers will be competing, including several with NASCAR and IndyCar backgrounds.
Co-owner and reigning SRX champion Tony Stewart will be looking to continue his dominance in the series, after notching two victories in the No. 14 machine last year.
This year, he’ll swap his bright orange paint for a new cherry red scheme, as he eyes another championship.
Stewart’s prowess on dirt was apparent last year, after sweeping the two races at Knoxville (Iowa) and Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
Though the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion didn’t win on asphalt, his average finish of 3.75 in feature events showed consistency.
Open-wheel talent will be apparent in Saturday’s opener, with six of the 12 competitors boasting IndyCar experience.
Last year’s surprise winner, and runner-up points finisher Ernie Francis Jr. will be back behind the wheel in a limited capacity, including at Five Flags. The 24-year-old impressed a hefty amount of big names after his success in the series last summer, including Roger Penske, who helped Francis Jr. land a full-time ride in Indy Lights.
The “Thrill from Westhill,” Paul Tracy, will pilot his No. 3 machine full-time once again, after tangling with the majority of the SRX field at least once last year. The former CART champion will be looking for more consistency, as his boisterous driving style left him with an average finish of 8.3, good enough for seventh in the standings.
Former IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay will be a new face on the SRX circuit, as he embarks on a full-time season in the series.
2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan will be back behind the wheel for five of the six SRX races this season, fresh off his third-place effort in the 106th Indianapolis 500.
Marco Andretti, last year’s Slinger (Wis.) Speedway winner will compete full time in the series once again, after an impressive fourth-place points finish during the inaugural season.
Five Flags will showcase plenty of former NASCAR winners on Saturday night as well, including Michael Waltrip.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner brought his comedic personality to the series, along with some stellar drives before ultimately finishing eighth in the standings.
The gold-colored No. 69 machine will feature Greg Biffle, who showed impressive drives in two races last year. The former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series champion made the most of his two starts last year, including finishing second in the opener at Stafford.
Ryan Newman, who won the 2008 Daytona 500, will make his SRX debut on Saturday. The “Rocket Man” will contest all six races on the SRX schedule, piloting the No. 39 Sun Outdoors entry.
Bobby Labonte showed plenty of flashes last year, and he’ll be back for another go at full-time action. The 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion hit his stride later in the season, with finishes of fifth or better in the final three races.
The first driver to pilot the local hero car this season will be Bubba Pollard.
The 35-year-old late model driver has won some of the most prestigious events in late model competition, including the All-American 400 (2016) and the Oxford 250 (2018).
Pollard earned his spot to compete in the special patriotic car by scoring the best average finish at Five Flags in the PepperJack Kennels Twins earlier this year.
In last year’s season opener at Stafford, six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby held off some of NASCAR’s best in Biffle and Stewart, to score the unlikely victory.