Race Weekend Central

SRX Review: Bobby Labonte Finds Victory Lane Again at Nashville

The Superstar Racing Experience invaded Nashville, Tennessee for a trip to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on July 9, to kick off the second half of the six-race schedule.

In the end, it was Bobby Labonte who brought home the win. He is the fourth different winner in four Camping World SRX Series races this season.

His first career SRX win was dominant, but also not easy. He definitely had the best car all night, finishing third in heat one, fourth in heat two, starting on pole, and leading nearly every lap. He fought off challenges from drivers such as Marco Andretti (who finished second), Matt Kenseth (third) and Paul Tracy (fourth) to do so.

Labonte fought off several restarts in the last 20 laps, and finally returned to victory lane at the Fairgrounds — he won the 1996 Opryland 320 for his lone NASCAR Busch (now Xfinity) Series win of the season 26 years ago.

Andretti had to settle for second again, after losing out to Ryan Newman just one week ago at Stafford Motor Speedway. Kenseth meanwhile, impressed in his SRX debut (he will run the rest of this season) by rounding out the podium, after having rather disappointing heat races. The driver of the No. 5 (interesting number choice might I add, given his history with numbers such as 6, 17, 20 and 42) said he burned up the rear tires during the heats and ultimately ran out of time to go for the win.

Tracy had another solid day, coming home fourth and finishing top five in both heat races. After being what some considered the laughingstock of the SRX field, Tracy has caught fire the last two races.

Meanwhile, it was a relatively quiet night for previous race winners this season, Helio Castroneves and Newman, as they came home fifth and sixth, respectively. The next SRX regular to finish was Michael Waltrip, who had a solid feature race and came home eighth.

The local stars didn’t have the outcome they wanted in the race. IndyCar’s own Josef Newgarden competed in his hometown race, leading flag-to-flag in heat one en route to the win. But a rare mistake from Newgarden resulted in him looping the car with just 30 laps to go. He finished eighth in the 13-car field.

The other local guest star, Cole Williams, won heat two but wasn’t much of a factor the whole night, and he came home a disappointing 12th, beating out only Tony Kanaan.

Other SRX regulars Greg Biffle, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Stewart, wound up ninth, 10th and 11th, in that order, ahead of Williams but behind Newgarden and Waltrip.

As the series heads down the home stretch, let’s look at where the drivers are at in the points standings. Yes, it’s sometimes easy to forget that despite the overall chaos and fun of the Saturday night short-track racing of SRX, there is a season-long points battle going on as well.

Labonte’s phenomenal night at the Fairgrounds rockets him to the point lead with just two races to go. Andretti currently sits second, three points behind Labonte, and Newman is in third, just five behind. The top three in points are all separated by just five points. Five. That should make these next two races interesting in regard to racing for wins or racing for a good points day.

Don’t forget about Stewart and Biffle who are riding in fourth and fifth in points, respectively. Stewart is 37 points back, and Biffle is 39. These five are the only drivers currently separated by less than a race’s worth of points (the absolute maximum you could get in a race this season is 51). After that you’re looking at a 52-point gap from Labonte back to Tracy in sixth, so he’ll need a little bit of help if he wants an outside shot, mathematically, to compete for the championship at the season finale at Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio.

However, before drivers start thinking about that championship, they must first take a trip to the state of Missouri, where the Federated Auto Parts Raceway (also known as I-55 Raceway) awaits the drivers. This begins the dirt track portion of the schedule, as both I-55 and Sharon are on dirt.

The guest star for I-55? None other than the track’s owner and former NASCAR driver, Ken Schrader. Will he stack up to the competition before him? After all, he has previously raced with all the other retired (or, in Biffle’s case, semi-retired) NASCAR drivers entered in the race, so he probably knows what they’ve got. But the IndyCar drivers and young guns might throw Schrader for a loop at his own track. It will be a fun one, that’s for sure.

Coverage for the SRX race at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 begins at 8 p.m. ET on July 16, on CBS.

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Bill B

Good for Bobby but….. yawn… I still can’t watch more than 10 minutes of this “race”. I am happy for anyone that enjoys it but I’ve tried and I just don’t like the rules and format.

Jeremy

I’m glad that Paul Tracy has calmed down and actually started putting together some decent runs. I like him better as a credible competitor than I do a “drama” piece. Actually, all of them have gotten better, as there doesn’t seem to be as many spins and crashes as there was in season 1. Still a lot of bumping and damage, just fewer spins. Which is good.

Was glad to see Bobby and Newman back in the winner’s circle the last couple of weeks. I would like to see Andretti finally break through. He was a surprise to me last season, and has been consistently good this year. Still makes the occasional mistake, but he’s definitely getting a better handle on this car/style of racing.

I’m surprised Ernie Frances Jr. hasn’t been more consistent. I expected a steeper performance improvement from him than Andretti, but it hasn’t materialized.

Looking forward to seeing KSchrader race again! I know he’s still racing, I just haven’t seen any races he’s been in for a long time.

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