Tony Stewart and Ernie Francis Jr. pace the Camping World SRX race at Knoxville Raceway. (Photo Ray Haye)
PENSACOLA, Fla. — Just over a year ago, the green flag was waved at the inaugural Superstar Racing Experience season at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
Six consecutive weeks on Saturday night, short track action took place, with five different winners crowned as the series caused a stir at local tracks across the country.
Now the SRX is focusing on its second season of action, starting this Saturday at the half-mile asphalt oval of Five Flags Speedway, which is best known for hosting the annual late-model Snowball race. Derby.
Twelve drivers will be competing, including several from NASCAR and IndyCar.
SRX co-owner and defending champion Tony Stewart will be looking to continue his dominance in the series, after picking up two wins in the No. 14 machine Last year.
This year he will swap his bright orange paintwork for a new cherry red scheme, as he eyes another championship.
Stewart’s clay-court prowess was evident last year, after sweeping both races at Knoxville, Iowa, and Eldora Speedway, Ohio.
Although the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion didn’t win on asphalt, his 3.75 average in distance events showed consistency.
The freewheeling talent will be apparent in Saturday’s opener, with six of the 12 competitors enjoying an IndyCar experience.
Last year’s surprise winner and points runner-up Ernie Francis Jr. will be back behind the wheel in a limited capacity, including at Five Flags. The 24-year-old impressed a slew of big names after his success on the show last summer, including Roger Penske, who helped Francis Jr. land a full-time ride in Indy Lights.
The ‘Thrill from Westhill’ Paul Tracy will once again be riding his No. 13 machine full-time, having mingled with the majority of the SRX peloton at least once last year. The former CART champion will be looking for more consistency, as his loud driving style left him with an 8.3 average, 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 begins a full-time season on the series.
2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan will be back behind the wheel for five of six SRX races this season, following his 106th-place finish in the Indianapolis 500.
Marco Andretti, winner of Slinger (Wis.) Speedway last year, will once again compete full-time in the series, following an impressive fourth-place finish in points in the inaugural season.
Five Flags will also feature many past NASCAR winners on Saturday night, including Michael Waltrip.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner brought his comedic personality to the series, along with stellar workouts before eventually finishing eighth in the standings.
The gold-colored #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 Game 1 at Stafford.
Ryan Newman, who won the 2008 Daytona 500, will make his SRX debut on Saturday. The “Rocket Man” will race in 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 full-time action. The 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion hit his stride later in the season, with finishes of fifth or better in the last three races.
The first driver to drive the hometown hero car this season will be Bubba Pollard.
The 35-year-old late model rider 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 highest finishing average 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 at Biffle and Stewart, to take the unlikely win.