There is no doubt that Tony Stewart, three-time NASCAR champion, is a fierce competitor. This past weekend, however, Stewart was more successful on the local short track circuit, including Williams Grove and Selinsgrove Speedway, than he was in the Cup race at Martinsville.
On Friday night, Smoke showed up to race at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania. Taking his spot in a sprint car, he was quick in hot laps and started eighth in the heat race.
Stewart picked his way through the field to finish second behind Brent Marks in the heat event. His finish gave him the opportunity to draw for his start position in the feature.
Smoke went on to run in the top five for most of the 25-lap main event and was as high as third at the halfway mark. He was then passed by Don Kreitz, Jr. to finish fourth.
With his appetite whetted for the Pennsylvania short tracks, Stewart jumped back to the sprint car track from Martinsville to compete on Saturday at Selinsgrove Speedway in the Empire Super Sprint/Mach 1 Chassis 358-360 sprint car challenge race.
“My pilots get a lot of third-shift flights,” Stewart said of his travel between race tracks. “But it makes it all worthwhile when I can come to a cool place like this.”
“It’s obviously one of the most famous tracks in Pennsylvania.”
This was Stewart’s first completed race at Selinsgrove, where racers like Jan Opperman cut their teeth and honed their racing prowess. The last Selinsgrove race in which Smoke competed was called due to rain.
And just like the other racing legends back in the day, Smoke strutted his stuff, setting a new track record in qualifying, with a fast lap of 17.168 seconds.
Unfortunately, Stewart’s luck did not hold out when it came to drawing for his starting position. He drew eighth in the feature event.
“I was nervous when we drew an eight for the feature,” Stewart said prior to the race. “Knowing that Pat Cannon and Mark Smith are up there, those are the guys you’re going to have to watch out for and have to beat.”
Smoke had no reason to be nervous, however, as once the green flag dropped, he drove to the front of the field, winning his first sprint race of the year. The victory was especially sweet since Stewart’s race got rained out last year.
“It’s an honor to run here,” Smoke said in Victory Lane. “I’m glad we got back here tonight.”
“The track got so wide and racy,” Stewart continued. “It’s fun when you can go to a track and have a lot of room to race from top to bottom.”
Although Stewart shared that he would take the momentum of the Selinsgrove win with him to Martinsville, that was not meant to be. Smoke started deep in the field in the Cup race in 26th and finished not much higher in 17th.
Although Stewart’s No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet did improve by the mid-point of the race, he suffered from restarting in the outside lane on lap 473 and was stuck there for many of the final laps.
“We were treed in that outside lane,” Stewart said. “We worked hard on this Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevy all weekend.”
“It wasn’t perfect,” Smoke continued. “But we made steady progress with it.”
“To have it kind of fall away like that at the end is pretty disappointing.”
While Stewart may have enjoyed his Pennsylvania short track experiences better than his Cup run, he certainly must have enjoyed seeing his teammate and protégé Danica Patrick outshine him. Danica finished 12th and scored her best Sprint Cup result since finishing eighth in the Daytona 500.
“It was a nice day for us,” Patrick said. “We’ve had quite a few bad ones since Daytona.”
“So, we’ll take this and get rolling into the summer because we don’t have a break until July.”
Unfortunately, Smoke’s other teammate Ryan Newman had an even more miserable day than his team owner. Newman had several flat right-front tires which resulted in a 31st place finish, eight laps down.
“That wasn’t the finish we deserved today,” Newman said. “We had a right-front tire go down late in the going and that obviously put us behind.”
“NASCAR penalized us for intentionally bringing out the caution so they held us for three laps,” Newman continued. “We lost another right front not long after that and our day was pretty much done from there.”
Team owner, Sprint Cup and sprint car racer Tony Stewart can, however, claim one bright spot. He leads both Newman and Patrick in the point standings, currently 22nd, 96 points behind new point’s leader Jimmie Johnson.
Stewart is scheduled next to compete in the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. But one never knows at which sprint car track he will appear next.