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Final Thoughts: 2022 SRX Roundtable

The 2022 Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) season has concluded following a dramatic conclusion at Sharon Speedway, in which Marco Andretti won the championship by passing multiple cars in the final laps despite breaking his wrist during the final wreck.

The four writers of Frontstretch who helmed coverage of the series over the previous six weeks — Michael Finley, Michael Massie, Adam Cheek and Anthony Damcott — decided to give one more take apiece before closing the book on the 2022 season.

Veteran Presence & NASCAR Dominance

There are a few aspects of the 2021 and 2022 SRX seasons that mirror each other. Tony Stewart won two races in each campaign. Chase Elliott came out on top in his guest appearance in both seasons. Bobby Labonte finished third in the standings.

That all said, the variety of winners was far different than in ’21: last year, things kicked off with a guest driver winning, plus two Stewart victories and wins from Trans-Am’s Ernie Francis Jr., NTT IndyCar Series’ Andretti and Elliott. In ’22, it was the NASCAR-based drivers (and veterans) who excelled besides Andretti, who claimed the title, and Helio Castroneves, who won the season opener.

See also
SRX Review: Chase Elliott Wins Battle, Marco Andretti the War Albeit Controversially at Sharon

Stewart won two races, Elliott one, Ryan Newman one, Labonte one. All told, those four drivers combine for 60 full-time seasons at NASCAR’s top level, plus five Cup Series titles. Whereas 2021 had three wins from drivers with NASCAR prowess, 2022 had four and an even more largely NASCAR-based field.

I say “veteran presence” in terms of that’s what SRX is all about, but it’s the older, grizzled veterans that truly led the way this season even more so than 2021. Every single race winner has been a major name in their respective series for 15+ years — I’ll give a little leeway to Elliott, who has yet to hit 10 years in the Cup Series, by including his dad Bill in the mix … the Elliott name overall, if you will.

SRX’s draw has been its roster of diverse racing backgrounds, and the series delivered in even further spades than 2021: for 2022, they had local track stars joining the mix like before, but added the IndyCar talents of Ryan Hunter-Reay, and several NASCAR-centric legends joined the fray as well.

As a whole, though, it was fantastic to see some sold-out, or if not sold-out then at least quite significant, crowds at the races and some great racing mixed in. Though I personally ended up unable to attend the race at South Boston Speedway, the racing was fantastic, and it was entertaining to see some tempers flaring throughout the season.

Fingers crossed SRX returns for 2023. –Adam Cheek 

SRX Finds Solid Footing, But Problem Areas Still Abound 

Now that SRX has completed its second season, it’s clear that lessons learned from season one were applied to this season and a lot of kinks got worked out.

But there were still some things that we saw this season that, if SRX is picked up for a third season, need to be looked at.

First, shortening races unexpectedly must be addressed before it becomes an issue. At Sharon Speedway (which I had the privilege of attending as a fan), the 70-lap feature turned into 50 laps because the two-hour TV window was quickly ending.

This was not communicated to fans at the track, and when the checkered flag flew on lap 50, fans around the track (myself included) were confused, because the last time we heard, the feature was 70 laps. This was due to a rule change where only green flag laps counted, but this has to be addressed before it has the potential to become a problem, because it will drive fans away. Not to mention, it’s unacceptable for the championship race to be decided 20 laps earlier than expected.

Secondly, let’s talk about driver carelessness. SRX is meant to be a typical, short-track Saturday night of entertainment. But there’s a fine line between entertaining and out of control.

It seemed that week after week, drivers were tearing cars up as early as the heats. Drivers were using their cars as weapons under caution, and it seemed like cars never came home in one piece.

It seemed like every week, the drivers’ meeting featured a Stewart lecture about how they need to be better drivers because SRX doesn’t have enough employees to fix a car overnight, let alone 12 or 13. Drivers became a lot more careless than last season, and the SRX employees were the ones who suffered for it.

Finally, let’s talk about drivers themselves, namely the guest stars. I LOVE the idea, but aside from a fantastic run from Bubba Pollard at Five Flags Speedway and Ken Schrader putting on a show at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55, the guest stars really didn’t perform at the level they were expected to.

Sure, Josef Newgarden and Cole Williams won the heats at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, but they weren’t really a factor in the feature. Guest stars really underperformed this season, which just shows that every racecar is different and jumping from one series to another is challenging.

Speaking of drivers, SRX should look at getting some new full-time drivers. There were some drivers this season that really struggled, and for two of them — Michael Waltrip and Paul Tracy — there was little to no improvement from last year (and they were the cause of a lot of cautions this season). It’s time to find drivers who could do well in the seat and not cause problems for other drivers.

All of this should not discredit the overall fantastic season. The racing was exciting from start to finish, and the championship battle was even better. These are just some additional things that need to be cleaned up if SRX wants to be a long-term organization. – Anthony Damcott

Marco’s Secret Sin & a Look to the Future

Lost in a lot of the excitement of how Andretti won the championship was a line that he crossed during the feature event.

At one point, the NTT IndyCar Series driver rammed Newman coming out of the restart, in a move more reminiscent of a Senna or Schumacher than that of an Andretti. He is very lucky that there was a much better story and that he ended up taking the brunt of the damage in that initial exchange, because the alternative is that he’s remembered as a champion who took this fun little series way too seriously.

Now that we have the ratings for the entire series, it’s remarkable just how consistent SRX was. Yes, it only beat one program in its timeslots of the big four networks in the last six weekends (And the one it did beat, a UFC broadcast, was simulcast on ESPN and ABC, which split the audience). Yes, it only eclipsed one million total viewers once. But they also never fell below 950,000 viewers either, and compared to most sports, it did as pretty decent job in a very tough timeslot.

If the series returns next year, two central changes need to happen. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney did not make much of a difference in the ratings that last race, so if the series were to move to starting in a Saturday afternoon or Sunday prior-to-NASCAR timeslot, the ratings should go up. Saturday night is just a killer in the summer time, with so many people out and about. Young fans don’t want to make a big commitment to watching a product now.

The second is that they really set up this series to fail in some aspects by not giving them any kind of a national lead-in. Even if it’s just a repeat of a CSI, that would mean more than, say, the informercials I saw in my market throughout this past month. It’s just too new and niche of a property to start cold. Do these two things, and I don’t think season four is as much a question mark right now as season three is. – Michael Finley

On the Verge of Greatness, An Identity Must Be Found 

With the newness of SRX wearing off this season, fans were really able to hone in on what is really working for the series as well as what needs to be fixed.

The South Boston Speedway race was hands-down the most entertaining race in the series’ young history, because it had everything you could ask for in a race. It had hard racing for the lead between Stewart, Andretti and Greg Biffle. It had vintage Tony Stewart as he went after Francis in the infield and got mad at all the other drivers before going and winning the race. And it had drivers retaliating on each other.

The series found its identity at SoBo, and that race created a lot of buzz. But then all of the drivers were lectured for driving too aggressive in the following week’s drivers meeting and they toned it down. The next race at Stafford Motor Speedway was good but not as great as SoBo. The week after at Nashville was a snoozer, as Labonte led every lap of the feature.

To Anthony’s point, tearing up these cars means more work for the crew guys. But if the product gets enough viewers and makes enough money, they can hire more crew guys to help fix up the cars.

This is a series that has fun flags, is loaded with gimmicks and is all about the entertainment. Lean into that completely and make it more like pro wrestling.

Another part of that problem is the series just doesn’t seem to be as entertaining on tracks that are half-miles. The two best races have been at SoBo and Slinger Speedway, which are both under a half-mile. With only 12-13 cars, they get too spread out if the track is too big.

So if there is a season three, SRX needs to go back to SoBo and Slinger and maybe add in other tracks smaller than a half-mile such as Bowman Gray Stadium, Thunder Road Speedbowl or Langley Speedway. -Michael Massie

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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Tom B

It had its 15 minutes. Let’s just move on to the next circus act.

John

I like SRX. Things it could do better at are eliminating the so-called “fun cautions” and replacing Wrecker Tracy and Waltrip with more capable drivers. Those two are just annoying. Also, I’d like to see them run the high banks at Anderson Speedway in Anderson, Indiana. Several of the drivers have run there before in their earlier years, and it’s a great little track.

Jeremy

At one point, I thought Tracy was doing better this year, and then he crashed out of the remaining events. Ugh. Problem is, if you kick Tracy out, who replaces him? Gotta be careful because there are so many NASCAR guys out there available, but seemingly fewer open wheel drivers.

Marco did so well until that last race, then he got desperate and made one bad move that had me shaking my head. Can’t blame him, I’d probably be the same way – except I haven’t been racing my whole life.

TV broadcast needs to be tightened up a bit, but overall not bad. I enjoy the different driver / town spotlights during the intermission between the heats and final. Agree with the need to run the posted length, or that WILL become a problem for those who spend the time/money to attend it live.

Finally, the cars. They need to be built tougher. I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve been torn up so much and patched back together, or if the drivers are just hitting each other harder, but it seemed like minimal contact was constantly ripping off body panels – especially rear bumper covers and right front fenders. Make the cars capable of taking the abuse (whether intentional or from drivers making mistakes) and let them have at it.

+1 for Anderson Speedway! When we lived in Indiana, we went there frequently. It would be a great venue for the SRX series!

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