ROSSBURG, Ohio – Laying claim to the half-mile dirt track he purchased from Earl Baltes in November of 2004, Tony Stewart took his second straight Camping World Superstar Racing Experience win Saturday night at Eldora Speedway after a late-race battle with USAC Silver Crown Series kingpin Kody Swanson.
Stewart, who found the top groove late in the 50-lapper, roared around the outside of Swanson for the final time on lap 47 and held serve over the final two miles en route to the checkered flag.
The three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion crossed the finish line .481 seconds clear of Swanson, but lauded the five-time Silver Crown titlist after the race for their thrilling scrap in the closing stages.
“Kody found the bottom. I couldn’t roll the bottom as good as he could. I was real dependent on being up on the top. I just think that’s what Eldora does – the complexion of the track changes during the race,” Stewart said. “I thought the top was good in the beginning in the main and then Kody got just crushing everybody on the bottom and got rolling through there. But the good thing was when he went by, everybody else followed him down there like they were in a parade and left the top open.
“The longer we went, I finally got the momentum going on the top to get back by him.”
Stewart tipped that old lessons from one of the best to ever race at Eldora helped him to victory lane.
“Jack Hewitt was probably the best I’ve ever seen here at Eldora … and I learned a couple of things watching him win the 4-Crown one year where he won all four divisions, and I used that line a lot early in the race here today and it helped out a lot,” tipped Stewart, referring to sprint car and midget veteran Hewitt’s legendary sweep of the 1998 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora.
Though Stewart was initially slated to start from the pole, he made an extra trip to pit road before the start for what he later revealed was an “accidental bump of the kill switch” inside the race car.
Because of that, Stewart was forced to start from the tail of the 12-car field, and he methodically worked his way forward throughout the feature as Indy car stars battled at the front early on.
Paul Tracy led the opening laps over four-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, with Stewart not even cracking the top 10 until the ninth circuit around the Eldora dirt track.
At quarter distance, Tracy’s advantage was more than a second, but a lap-15 caution flag bunched up the field and paved the way for the first shuffle in the running order at the head of the field.
When racing resumed, Tracy narrowly held the lead as Scott Speed moved into the runner-up spot, with Stewart continuing to climb the running order. By lap 20, Stewart was in fourth place – all while he conducted an in-car interview under green-flag conditions with CBS Sports analyst James Hinchcliffe.
But just like Stewart was gaining ground, so was Swanson from ninth on the grid. A two-for-one slide job catapulted the Kingsburg, Calif., native up to third moments before a yellow flag for a collision between Tony Kanaan and Ernie Francis Jr. that sent Kanaan spinning in the back of the pack.
Following the next restart, the first lead change of the main came on lap 26 when Swanson hustled the bottom to pass Tracy with ease. He quickly opened up a second-and-a-half advantage and it appeared that the “local all-star” might win for the second time in three races after Doug Coby’s Stafford score.
A yellow, however, changed all that with 17 laps left. It wiped out a 1.684-second lead for Swanson and set up Tracy and Speed within striking distance of Swanson – with Stewart sixth at that point.
The lap-34 restart saw Tracy get enough drive off the top of the race track to retake the lead, but Swanson came right back two laps later to seize the top spot again.
Stewart was sizing up his move to the front, though, sliding Tracy for second coming to 12 to go and setting his sights on Swanson to do battle for the victory.
The fourth caution of the race – this one with eight to go – set Stewart up on Swanson’s outside for a double-file restart. That was where he pounced, grabbing the top spot when the green flag waved on lap 43 and trying to take off into the Ohio night.
Swanson didn’t go quietly, however. After a final caution with five to go, when Bobby Labonte spun from third and was hit by several cars – shredding his machine – Swanson laid one more attack out against Stewart and actually edged back ahead to lead lap 46 by .013 seconds at the flagstand.
But Stewart was ready to put the battle to bed, controlling the final four laps after that. It left Swanson to settle for second – tying his career-best Eldora finish set during the 2015 4-Crown Nationals.
“I felt like we had a really strong car through the middle of the race,” said Swanson, who was forced into a backup car for the feature after sustaining damage to his primary car in the second heat race. “I really appreciate everybody with SRX and the guys on the crews. They built 16 cars to come out and put this on in a short amount of time and I appreciate them letting me have a chance in a backup car. I hate to tear up their equipment and I hate to lose.
“I felt like we were really good in the middle of the race and the bottom just kind of gave up a little bit and I got the top of (turns) one and two working. But once Tony had track position, it was hard to get back by him,” Swanson continued. “I felt like I had a chance there but I just didn’t hit the bottom perfect and he got back around me. It’s awful hard to beat him here at Eldora.”
Castroneves filled out the podium and rose to second in SRX points as a result. He was followed in Saturday’s race by fellow Indy car driver Marco Andretti and Tracy, a former Indy car regular.
Stewart topped the first 12-minute heat race, while Andretti won the second heat.
The Camping World Superstar Racing Experience season continues July 3 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind., with Bobby Santos III joining the field as the track’s “local all-star”.
1. 14-Tony Stewart , 2. 63-Kody Swanson , 3. 3-Helio Castroneves , 4. 98-Marco Andretti , 5. 13-Paul Tracy , 6. 41-Scott Speed , 7. 48-Tony Kanaan , 8. 2-Ernie Francis Jr. , 9. 17-Willy T. Ribbs , 10. 15-Michael Waltrip , 11. 18-Bobby Labonte , 12. 9-Bill Elliott .