Race Weekend Central

SRX Review: Longer Feature, Brake Failures Highlight Stafford II

The second round of the six-race Camping World SRX Series season is complete after another exciting race at Stafford Motor Speedway. Let’s look back at the first time the series ran two races in one season at the same track.

Why was SRX there? They were originally scheduled to head to Thunder Road SpeedBowl in Barre, Vt. only for heavy flooding to trigger a state of emergency. The weather forced series officials to postpone the event to 2024, returning SRX to Stafford for the second week in a row.

This go-round, with last week’s winner Denny Hamlin not competing, Ryan Newman came out in top. The Rocket Man rocketed to the top to earn his second career SRX victory; both have come at this 0.5-mile oval out in Connecticut.

In fact, Newman’s come oh-so-close to going three-for-three here in main events. Last week, he was the unfortunate victim of weather in the area, which forced SRX to shorten the lap count. This week, he was at or near the front but capitalized once mechanical issues bit a few faster drivers out front.

That’s the big obstacle drivers battled at Stafford, suffering brake fade or brake failures altogether. Local favorite and 37-time Stafford winner Ryan Preece, who was dominating the main event, saw his brake pedal hit the floor midway through and was forced to drop out, finishing last.

It was a disappointing end to a race that wasn’t originally on the calendar for Preece until the Vermont postponement created a last-minute opportunity to run at his home track. At least the Berlin, Ct. native, who grew up just 42 miles from Stafford, made the most of sliding into a 13th car and truly enjoyed a return to his roots.

For another driver, a career-best run in a “stock” car was derailed. Tony Kanaan was looking for the first podium finish in his SRX career, and perhaps his first win, which became more likely once Preece dropped out. But he, too, suffered from brake failure, causing him to slam the wall and follow Preece straight to the garage.

Paul Tracy was the third and final victim of brake issues, winding up 11th because of it. Other drivers reported having to manage their tires and brakes in order to just make it to the finish of the event.

Tony Stewart, who won Heat 1 and finished seventh, made clear to Frontstretch he’s a better driver than a crew chief. However, the always-animated Smoke admitted the brake issue is unlike anything the series has experienced before.

It was still a successful night, especially for the newbies. Daniel Suarez finished second in his series debut, falling just six laps short of giving SRX back-to-back first-time winners to start the season. If the race had run its normal distance, Suarez very well might have won it, filling the shoes of fellow first-timer Preece.

Stafford’s overall race pace in its fourth attempt felt like the Goldilocks ending: just right. In its first season, SRX main events on dirt ovals were 50 laps, while paved ovals were 100 laps, with the exception of the race at Slinger Speedway, which was 150. The series quickly realized trying to fit that amount of racing into a two-hour TV window, along with two 12-minute heat races, was just impossible to do without shortening the main event.

In 2022, the number of laps in the main event was reduced to 75. In theory, that should have helped the series get off the air in two hours, but fewer laps appeared to pump up drivers’ aggression from the start. Wreckfests ensued in both the heats and main event, causing several races to run long.

Before the second race at Stafford this year, SRX announced the main event would go from a 75-lap to an 80-lap feature. This time, Stafford II was able to complete all 80 laps with time to spare, even with a number of crashes late. Can they keep this faster pace going so more racing can fit within the desired window?

As for the racing itself, it feels like another title battle brewing between two SRX heavyweights. Behind Suarez was defending series champion Marco Andretti, who also commented on fading brakes, saying he had the same issues last week and learned to save more this week.

With the win, Newman opens up a 15-point gap on Andretti in the point standings. The duo appear to be establishing a little breathing room on the field during the asphalt portion of the schedule.

Will it hold?

One driver who has been a little behind the 8-ball to start the season is Stewart. Aside from a Heat 1 victory, Stewart has largely gone unnoticed so far this season. The 2021 SRX champion and 2022 contender has already experienced his first main event DNF and can’t fully rely on the dirt races, including his own Eldora Speedway, to save him down the stretch.

But as we head to the halfway point of this year’s schedule, Stewart will need to put his ownership hat on to ensure brakes get minimized as a potential storyline. Keep in mind SRX competes primarily on short tracks that necessitate heavy brake usage.

SRX is unique in that it doesn’t return to a shop during the week to repair cars and instead just fixes them on the road at the next track. With brakes an absolute necessity in this series, how they fine-tune the cars will be crucial heading to an even smaller oval this week at Pulaski County Motorsports Park.

There is one budding rivalry (and one old one) from the Stafford two-week opener that remain red hot. Tracy’s brake issues were not the first incident of the night for the former open-wheel driver as he was turned early on by Ken Schrader. The move was almost certainly payback for last week’s race, when Tracy turned Schrader around. Then, with nine laps to go, Tracy was punted by Hailie Deegan just before his brakes gave out.

Now, the Camping World SRX Series will head to Pulaski County, Va., where the former Motor Mile Speedway awaits. Conor Daly will make his SRX broadcasting debut in 2023, taking over from Darrell Waltrip.

There’s also a plethora of new drivers moonlighting against the eight full-time championship contenders. This week’s list includes two-time NASCAR champion Kyle Busch and 2023 Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden (the Heat 1 polesitter according to this week’s draw). Driver-turned-FOX Sports analyst Clint Bowyer also returns while 2022 Five Flags Speedway winner Helio Castroneves makes his season debut.

The third race of Thursday Night Thunder for the Camping World SRX Series at Pulaski County Motorsports Park will begin on Thursday, July 27 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 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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Christopher

Considering the abysmal ratings this might be the last season of SRX

Steven

I’d enjoy the show a bit more if they put Tim Flocks monkey in the car driven by the airhead girl.

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