Race Weekend Central

SRX Preview: Stafford Kicks Off New Era for 2023

It has been a long time, but it’s finally almost time for the start of the Camping World SRX Series season.

There have been quite a few changes to everything but the concept of SRX. The series hasn’t announced any points-format or race-format changes for this year, but there have been plenty of other changes for the eyes.

ESPN will serve as the new home for SRX, with the return of Thursday Night Thunder. The old TNT back in the 1990s gave many national audiences their first looks at names such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mike Bliss and Kenny Irwin Jr. back when they were rising stars on the USAC scene.

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With the new night came the addition of four new venues, one returning from the first season and Stafford Motor Speedway. Stafford is now the lone track on the SRX circuit that has been there since day one, as it hosted the very first SRX race in 2021.

Stafford is a classic New England short track. It’s a half-mile oval with nine degrees of banking in turns 1 and 2, then seven-and-a-half in turns 3 and 4. Any modified driver in the Northeast worth their weight has won at the legendary track, which opened back in 1870 as a horse track.

Below is this week’s field of drivers at Stafford, with the eight full-time drivers in alphabetical order to start and then the four guest drivers. As SRX hasn’t been forthcoming with numbers or sponsors for all of the drivers, there are a few gaps in the entry list.

Marco Andretti1Camping World
Hailie Deegan5Good Sam
Brad Keselowski6Camping World
Bobby Labonte18Sport Clips
Ryan Newman39South Point
Ken Schrader52Federated Auto Parts?
Tony Stewart14Bass Pro Shops
Paul Tracy13????
Clint Bowyer??????
Denny Hamlin11???
Kevin Harvick4South Point
Tony Kanaan66Purdue University

Now, let’s look at three of the superstars starting in Thursday night’s (July 13) race.

All eyes will be on Marco Andretti this season. As defending series champion (and having done it after breaking his wrist), now it’s time to see if the former full-time NTT IndyCar Series driver can repeat.

It has been impressive to see Andretti’s rise as a stock car driver over the past two seasons. He was able to grab what is thus far his lone SRX feature win at Slinger Speedway in 2021, stealing the win after a race in which the plucky Luke Fenhaus traded blow after blow with Stewart all night.

In 2022, Andretti made a very foolhardy move at South Boston Speedway that cost him a potential podium. But he learned from the mistake and was remarkably consistent for the rest of his championship-winning season.

Should Andretti get a full-time chance at NASCAR? Well, it wouldn’t hurt his argument if he can run it back this summer in SRX.

On the other side of the coin is Brad Keselowski, who will be a fascinating study this season as the lone full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver to also be full time in SRX. This is going to put a lot of pressure on Keselowski to keep up with appearances.

The myth of Cup drivers being pound-for-pound the best in the country — which was always just a myth — was wounded mightily when Supercars’ own Shane van Gisbergen won on the streets of Chicago last weekend. A Cup driver coming to SRX full time and struggling would not be a great look.

Another factor to watch with Keselowski this season will be the fact that he’s also a Cup Series co-owner. It’ll already be hard enough to juggle both SRX and Cup at the same time from a driving perspective. But he’s also going to be running a Cup team on top of it, one that has two drivers on the playoff bubble. This is a big gamble for the 2012 Cup champion.

One matchup I’ll be looking forward to this summer is seeing how Keselowski and Ryan Newman race together. There’s probably not a whole lot of love lost between the two, as Newman left RFK Racing partly to make way for Keselowski in the organization’s No. 6 car. And if Newman wants to take a shot at Keselowski, SRX would be much more even ground for him to do it in than in one of his Cup starts this season.

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Finally, Denny Hamlin is the lone guest driver this week who won’t be returning. Hamlin is perhaps the greatest Cup driver to never win a championship, but before his Cup career, the Virginia native cut his teeth on short tracks.

Hamlin won 25 races in 36 late model starts in 2003, an impressive record regardless of what his competition level was. And considering he was racing at tough, high-turnout racetracks such as South Boston or Motor Mile Speedway, it made it almost impossible not to catch some attention from top Cup teams. Joe Gibbs came calling, and the rest was history.

Something that will bode very well for Hamlin is tire management. Keeping tire wear to a minimum has always been a crucial element to SRX racing, as even the much-maligned bonus cars have a significant amount of laps done on their tires in practice.

Hamlin has long been the best or at least one of the best at tire management in the Cup Series. It’s a skill that isn’t as important in Cup with constant stage breaks and cautions, but it is one that will come into play as the feature race winds down on Thursday night.

The first event of the 2023 SRX season will be telecast on ESPN on Thursday, July 13. Coverage will begin at 9 p.m. ET.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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For a series preview, it would be nice if you added the schedule. But I guess trying to create a controversy that isn’t there even before the engines are even fired on the season was more important.

And Kes is only job in SRX is to drive the car…..on a Thursday night. I’m sure he will be just fine or else he wouldn’t have even bothered.

So it looks like ESPN will ruin another interesting series with their coverage. Since they are terrible at covering pretty much every other sport, I don’t anticipate them being any better for SRX. I really like this series, but I’m not looking forward to their coverage.