August 20, 2022

Ryan Newman can’t remember the part of the 2020 Daytona 500 that matters to the rest of us. Coming to the checkerboard with flying sparks, lying on its roof, millions of people on the track and watching across the country wondered if they had just witnessed NASCAR’s first racing death in nearly 20 years.

Did you ever imagine, watching this, seeing Newman in this type of victory lane on national television 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 former boss Tony Stewart. This is the sixth main event winner of the last six SRX races as parity continues to reign supreme.

Where does Newman go from here? It’s just one of five scenarios that buzz around as we leave Stafford Motor Speedway halfway through the SRX.

Newman goes all the way back

Reliving this wreck reminds you of what a miracle it was that Newman was gone. Diagnosed with a bruised brain, he was out of hospital in a week and back in a Cup car in 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 entered the organization at the end of the 2021 season.

So Newman tried his luck on SRX, a summer of six races to have fun and prove he can still drive at a high level. At Stafford he methodically navigated the field on a difficult-to-pass night, taking the lead for the first time with six laps to go. It was a small touch at the perfect time, a move that Marco Andretti knew was coming – and still couldn’t stop.

“Overdrive,” Andretti said of Newman’s bump up front. “I did a wheelie at the end.”

It was the opening Newman needed to both take the win and build on his points lead over Tony Stewart (up to 11 in three races). More importantly, it was a great moment in life that did not escape a pilot who often jokes that he lives with extra time.

“Having my girls here was so special,” he said. “To beat the best between Marco (Andretti) and Paul (Tracy), Tony (Stewart) and all the guys that are part of this business. 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, the Cup is the jackpot, but hopefully some Camping World Truck Series owners were watching. He would make a phenomenal addition to this division given the right opportunity.

Paul Tracy, an SRX winner?

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

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

“It felt like a win for me,” Tracy said. “I struggled so much here last year. I just overworked the car at the entrance… I’ll accept that man. I was dying to get on the podium.”

Big names debuting in 2022 left with disappointing results

Hailie Deegan started this SRX race from pole. Behind her, Justin Marks finished 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 that he and Deegan could energize the series, running ahead with popular fanbases.

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

“I’m probably the least experienced short-track driver in the field,” said Marks, whose only NASCAR win came at a road course in Mid-Ohio (Xfinity Series). “It was really cool to be side by side with Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, all those 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 on hand 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. That leaves Coby as the only homegrown All-Star to win a main event a year and a half into the series.

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

The victory led to a one-race truck contract at Bristol Motor Speedway. But since that race, where Coby finished 12th, the 42-year-old has found himself sidelined as young drivers take precedence in a sponsorship-driven sport. As SRX grows, it would behoove them to partner with teams from other series to offer 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 for Coby known, with many coming after the race to ask why he wasn’t in an SRX car.

Odds ‘N’ Ends

Tony Stewart spoke to the driving body this week about the SRX carnage that forced a mechanic, Kevin Ridley, to work 32 hours straight to fix the cars. The final result ? Not a single warning for a major racing incident at Stafford… Bobby Labonte battled through his own grass stoppage to lead for the first time in SRX competition, win the second qualifying race and finish fifth in the main event. His six straight top 5 finishes in hand are a series record … Justin Marks said Saturday he would speak to Helio Castroneves “shortly” about the Daytona 500. His new part-time No. 91 team was built for the international drivers to try my luck in NASCAR.