(CBS Local)- The first dirt race of the Camping World SRX Series season saw series co-founder Tony Stewart take the win at Knoxville Raceway, leading all but seven laps of the main event. Now, with the series heading to the track he owns, Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, the man known as Smoke is hard to pick against in Week 3.
“It’d be hard to bet against him. Second dirt race, he won the first one, it’s a track he knows very well inside and out. I don’t want to say the fix is in but his series, his cars, his track and he’s coming off a win, it’s going to be tough to bet against him,” SRX Racing series driver analyst James Hinchcliffe said.
But, just because Stewart owns the track doesn’t mean everyone else is racing for second. The first two races of the year have seen multiple drivers lead at various points during the two heats and main even races. That back and forth and watching the drivers learn on the fly has been the most intriguing part of the series thus far for Hinchcliffe.
“The ebb and flow of the races. With the length that they are and having to manage your tires and control the pace, you’ve seen throughout the races cars be really strong at certain points and fall back and vice versa. It’s not like one of these deals where it’s all settled in the first five laps,” Hinchcliffe said. “There are a lot of cars that have a shot at running up front at some point during the race. It’s kind of the fun part in seeing who’s going to be up there at the end.”
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That type of battling is exactly what Stewart and co-founder Ray Evernham were hoping for when designing the layout for the series last summer. With every driver using essentially the same car, the focus is on the skill and adaptability of every driver in the lineup. It’s led to entertaining racing and opportunity for local heroes like Week 1 winner Doug Coby.
“It’s a great twist but it also is just so cool how it highlights short track racing in this country,” Hinchcliffe said of having the local heroes race against the regular drivers. “What Coby did in that first one was just so good for the sport. It’s not like he just walked away with it, it was a great race right until the end.”
This week, the local heroes (aside from Stewart who owns the place) will be Kody Swanson, a five-time USAC Silver Crown Series winner. The 33-year-old Swanson is hoping to continue that track record of success for the local all-stars.
“It’s neat to be included for sure and with the job that Doug did there at Stafford, he set the bar at the top,” Swanson said. “Been to Eldora before, but never in a car quite like this. So, I’m thankful to have a little late model experience this year and maybe that will make me feel a little bit more comfortable sitting in a car like that. Hopefully I can get the hang of it quickly around the half-mile.”
The adjustments have been different for every driver on the series thus far based on their backgrounds coming in. Hinchcliffe mentioned that Tony Kanaan felt he was over driving the car in Week 1 and learning how to adjust to the “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” mentality.
Heading into Week 3, the series regulars now have plenty of laps under their belt to understand how the car drives. That should only make this week’s race at Eldora even more competitive something that Hinchcliffe is hoping to see for the series the rest of the way.
“What would I love to see? I don’t know man we’ve had some really cool stuff already these first couple of weeks. I just want to see more drivers mixing it up,” Hinchcliffe said. “I want to see second lanes come into play at these next couple of tracks and try to get different grooves working so you can start being creative with your lines and see who’s willing to hang it all out there.”
One thing is certain however. SRX is more than willing to change and adjust the format of the series. In between Week 1 and Week 2, the heats were dropped from 15 to 12 minutes and the main race dropped from 100 laps to 50. Hinchcliffe credits the series for being willing to listen to what fans want and immediately implement the changes.
“What I love about that is not only are they listening to the fans but their willingness and ability to change right away and make those adjustments week to week, that’s so cool to see,” Hinchcliffe said.
No adjustments to the format were made ahead of this week but the expectations of an entertaining race remain high. Week 3 of the Camping World SRX Racing Series gets underway at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS Television Network and streaming on Paramount+.