The 2023 Camping World SRX Series season is officially here.
One of the biggest changes for the six-week season is a move from Saturday nights on CBS to Thursday nights on ESPN, being dubbed “Thursday Night Thunder.”
The series’ third season officially kicked off at Stafford Motor Speedway on July 13, the only track to remain on the SRX schedule through all three seasons. This was the second time Stafford opened the season as Doug Coby was the first-ever SRX winner in 2021.
Denny Hamlin, who is only scheduled to race in the season opener at Stafford, made the most of his one-off, winning the main event in his SRX debut. It was shaping up to be a great battle with Ryan Newman, but unfortunately, severe weather moved in and forced the main event to be cut short with just 58 of the 75 scheduled laps completed.
Hamlin wasn’t the only NASCAR star to invade the SRX field for the first time. Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick all made their SRX debuts. Bowyer completed the podium with a third-place finish, while Keselowski and Harvick finished ninth and 12th respectively.
While it seemed smooth sailing for Hamlin, who also won heat 1, other drivers weren’t as fortunate. Newman was forced into a numberless backup car after his No. 39 was suffering from engine issues after winning heat 2. This came after a spin in heat 1 that allowed him to start up front for the second heat. In that backup car, Newman also made contact with Keselowski, igniting a pileup that included Ken Schrader, Harvick and Bobby Labonte. Schrader was not thrilled by the display by the other drivers, saying “Guys need to be driving school bus figure-eight racing,” after all the contact.
Returning to the series for his third season was Paul Tracy, who won his first-ever main event pole. Tracy found some luck last season after a dismal first season and began the season on the right foot, despite running Hamlin down into the grass and spinning out new full-timer Schrader in the heat races.
However, Tracy didn’t even lead a lap, as defending champion Marco Andretti, who started all the way back in fifth, had perhaps the most legendary initial start of any racing series in 2023, moving from fifth all the way to first in turn 1 of the opening lap. Tracy still managed to finish fourth, one spot short of the podium.
A quiet night for Hailie Deegan, returning to SRX to run the full season, resulted in a fifth-place finish. Andretti faded to sixth despite his spectacular opening lap. Meanwhile, the rest of the field ran into trouble at some point during the night.
Schrader and Labonte finished seventh and eighth, respectively, and were never really factors after the accident. Meanwhile, Keselowski also spun early on in the first heat, which won him the pole for the second heat by virtue of the inverted order from the previous heat. The pileup on lap 6 reverted him to the back, and he didn’t climb higher than a ninth-place finishing position.
Tony Kanaan finished 10th but was the talk of the heat races after his primary car took damage that resulted in the hood flying completely off. Kanaan also went to a backup car.
“The engine needed to breathe,” Kanaan joked to ESPN.
Bossman Tony Stewart had a rough go of the main event, finishing 11th of the 12 drivers after oil pressure issues sidelined him from finishing the event. The only driver he finished in front of was his NASCAR Cup Series driver for just a few more months: Harvick. He saw his main event end early after that pileup early in the race. He was the only driver to not finish due to the crash; everyone else was able to continue.
Speaking of the championship, it’s worth reminding that there is still a points battle in SRX. Because some drivers are not receiving points for their select starts, Newman opens up the six-race season with the points lead over Tracy and Andretti.
Despite moving to Thursday nights, and the race being cut short by literal thunder and the ensuing torrential downpour that followed, SRX seems poised to have another great season with knock-down, drag-out battles that have captivated audiences the past two seasons. Moving to Thursdays, where there’s no real shot other racing series will run, might even boost the viewership of the series if Stafford was a preview of what’s to come.
The move to ESPN also marked a momentous occasion in recent auto racing history, as it’s the first time since 2018 that a non-Formula 1 race was broadcast flag-to-flag on ESPN airwaves. With the move came some former colleagues: Allen Bestwick, who called every SRX race when it was with CBS, returned to the network for the series, along with former studio host Nicole Briscoe. FOX Sports alum Matt Yocum also jumped ship with SRX and Bestwick from CBS.
Bestwick told Frontstretch it was like a class reunion of sorts.
Notable Headlines Out of Stafford
SRX will return to Stafford next Thursday (July 20), marking the first time in series history a track will have two races on the schedule. This is because the series originally planned to travel to Thunder Road International SpeedBowl in Barre, Vermont, however severe flooding throughout the state forced SRX to remain at Stafford for a second straight week.
SRX made it up to Thunder Road, as it has automatically awarded a spot on the 2024 schedule to the quarter-mile track to make up for not going there this year.
Due to the change in schedule, it was announced that Ryan Preece would drive a 13th SRX car in the second Stafford race. Stafford is Preece’s home racetrack and is where Preece became a successful NASCAR Whelen Modified Series driver.
One notable omission from the SRX lineup was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was scheduled to run the full SRX season once again. However, upon Conor Daly’s release from Ed Carpenter Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series, Hunter-Reay was tabbed to finish the season for the team, forcing him to back out of the SRX season.
This wasn’t widely known until CEO Don Hawk replied to a tweet from Frontstretch alum Aaron Bearden just before the race started.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
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