In last year’s Prelude to the Dream, Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart started the 30-lap feature on the pole, took the lead at the start and drove away from everyone else to claim victory.
This year, the competition made it a little bit harder for Tony to win.
In pole qualifying, Stewart set an event record, getting his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops-sponsored Rocket around the half-mile in 15.40 seconds. The standing-room only crowd of approximately 23,000 loved that. However, setting the fastest time in qualifying does not give you the pole position for either the feature or his heat race, due to inversions.
In his heat race (Heat #1), Tony started fourth with the inversion and immediately moved up to second behind the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson. However, Stewart could not get by the three-time defending Sprint Cup champion and had to settle for second, followed by Robby Gordon and Kyle Busch locking their spots into the feature. The only caution was with two laps completed when the No. 47 of Marcos Ambrose hit the wall and broke his right front suspension.
In Heat #2, Kasey Kahne drove away from the outside pole and won easily over Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kenny Wallace. The only caution was for an air cleaner that fell off of one of the cars and hit Kenseth’s No. 17. Despite the great finish, Hamlin’s engine had a lifter break. This caused small pieces of metal to bang around in the engine. Unfortunately, this forced Denny to sit out the feature.
Heat #3 was won by Aric Almirola in a Vault-sponsored No. 8. Clint Bowyer finished second, followed by Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers. However, Joey Logano was the story of this heat. Starting from the pole, Logano started well but hit the wall exiting turn 2 on the third lap. This effectively broke the rear spoiler on Logano’s car. This resulted in a complete lack of downforce and forced Logano into a spin in turn 3, where he backed into the wall. AJ Allmendinger’s No. 44 also hit the wall while trying to avoid Logano. This wrote off the No. 20 Home Depot car and necessitated a red flag to repair the catchfence. Logano came back for the feature in Stewart’s backup car, the No. 14L.
As a result of the inversion of the top-six qualifiers in pole qualifying, Bowyer claimed the pole for the 30-lap feature, with the No. 36 of Wallace alongside. Stewart had to start in sixth.
On the initial start, Stewart hit the wall, which made his task that much harder. After a couple of quick cautions, Stewart went to work setting up the leaders. Wallace was leading the race, but holding up the No. 33 of Bowyer. This briefly resulted in a five-way duel for the lead between Wallace, Bowyer, Newman, Kyle Busch and Stewart.
On lap 12, Bowyer dove low in turn 3 to try to pass Wallace. All this managed to do was to kill his own momentum, along with the potential runs off the corner that Busch and Newman could have had. Stewart used this opportunity to blow by the three of them into second place. Then, Stewart pulled a slide job on Wallace entering turn 1 to take the lead.
On lap 14, Robby Gordon blew a right-rear tire and spun in turn 2. A pile-up ensued involving Logano, Ken Schrader, Ambrose, Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears in addition to Gordon. Logano, Schrader and Gordon were forced to retire due to the crash, but no one was hurt.
From that point on, Stewart was unchallenged as he went on to repeat as the winner of the Prelude for the Dream. Bowyer claimed second place after contact on the final restart cut Wallace’s left-rear tire (Wallace finished 17th). Kyle Busch finished third, followed by Newman and Kenseth rounding out the top five.
After the event, track owner/race winner Stewart was very happy.
“This was an awesome race,” Stewart said in Victory Lane. “Makes up for the spring rainout for sure.”
Stewart continued on to say that this Prelude was a lot more difficult to win than last year’s because his car wasn’t as good. This was mainly because of the early wall contact and being caught back in traffic.
This year’s Prelude for the Dream benefited four main charities. Those charities are Fisher House, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Homefront, and the Wounded Warrior Project. The admissions, and pay-per-view purchases (the event cost $24.95 to view via HBO PPV, available through iNDemand, DirecTV Pay-Per-View and other PPV services) go to the Tony Stewart Foundation, which then divides the proceeds between the four aforementioned charities.
Fun was had by all, especially by the 23,000 fans in attendance in the grandstands, the suites in turns 3 and 4, and the grass berms outside the turns. For next year, Stewart is even considering the idea of a “promoter’s option,” or “bounty” against himself, where he would have to start at the rear of the field for the feature.