The third installment of the Camping World SRX Series has officially come to a close.
Ryan Newman, after losing the championship last season in controversial fashion, was rightfully crowned the champion, winning it decisively by clinching it after heat one of the season finale. The Rocket Man’s unreal consistency, combined with every other full-time driver encountering misfortune of some kind, allowed him to pull away with a massive point gap.
That may have been the only predictable part of the season.
Dirt ringer Jonathan Davenport won in his SRX debut in the season finale at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo. He dominated heat one en route to the win, and then dominated the main event from the pole, holding off challenges from just about everyone, but mainly Clint Bowyer, who was hungry for a home track win.
However, Davenport’s victory wouldn’t have even been possible if it weren’t for the indefinite suspension of Paul Tracy after SRX, drivers and fans had enough of his mistake-filled driving, culminating in an avoidable wreck at Pulaski County Motorsports Park. After Tracy’s suspension, SRX called up Johnny Benson, Chase Briscoe and Davenport to fill out the 12-car field at Berlin Raceway, Eldora Speedway and Lucas Oil, respectively.
Davenport’s dominating win reopens the question of whether or not SRX should bring back a local legend to drive each week. In 2021 and 2022, the local star was part of the draw for local fans, but in 2023 the series did away with it.
While Davenport isn’t necessarily a “local hero,” his performance as a guest driver should be enough for SRX to at least reconsider the idea of a local driver. After all, the first-ever winner in SRX history is Doug Coby, who was racing as a local legend at Stafford Motor Speedway.
Davenport was also the latest in a long string of drivers who won in their SRX debuts. NASCAR drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch did it at Stafford I and Berlin, respectively, marking three drivers who won in their debut. Busch ended up going back-to-back with Pulaski County and Berlin, meaning that just twice this season did a full-time SRX driver win a race – Newman at Stafford II and Tony Stewart at Eldora.
Speaking of Eldora, the race at Lucas Oil was somewhat up in the air after Austin Dillon blew a radiator belt and ignited a huge crash on lap 9 of heat one at Eldora that damaged half the field. With an already depleted inventory of racecars after the Tracy affair and other numerous incidents throughout the season, it was a long week for the SRX crew to make repairs enough to get 12 drivers in the field.
Davenport’s win may not have happened had the crew not been able to repair enough cars. As evidenced at Eldora, full-time drivers were given backup cars while part-timers and guest stars were done for the evening. Davenport may have very likely been ousted from the event if there weren’t enough cars, in favor of making sure all the full-timers had a ride.
Meanwhile, Stewart, fresh off of a clean sweep at his own track (Eldora) in his own series, struggled from the get go. Entering Lucas Oil, Stewart had won five of the six races the series had run on dirt – the lone time he didn’t win at Sharon Speedway, he finished second behind Chase Elliott. But at Lucas Oil, Stewart was barely able to crack the top five the entire night, including the heats, and only managed a seventh-place finish.
As Stewart was the only one mathematically able to challenge Newman for the championship, an early spin in heat one ended those hopes, and with his struggles throughout the night, both Marco Andretti and Brad Keselowski tied for second in points, sending Stewart back to fourth in the final point standings.
After making headlines for quipping that he wouldn’t run another race with Tracy, Ken Schrader notched his career-best finish in the series at Lucas Oil, coming home third. Schrader was fresh off of the dirt in another heavy-body stock car, winning the NASCAR Pinty’s Series race at Ohsweken Speedway to capture his first NASCAR-sanctioned win since 1995 when he won a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Saugus Speedway.
All the while Bowyer gave it his all for the win, performing two slide jobs in one lap on Davenport, both times overshooting his mark and fading back. His fifth-place result doesn’t justify his performance, as he was a challenger for the win all night. Although after the slide jobs, he had one last shot he had hoped for, benefitting from a caution that seemed to represent an SRX version of “Spingate” – of course Bowyer was in the race too.
The final caution of the night came out with three laps to go after Bobby Labonte spun off of turn 4. While Conor Daly was ecstatic up in the booth, jokingly thanking Labonte for bringing out that caution, replays of his spin showed that Labonte lost control of the car and didn’t have contact from anyone like most of the other spins of the night.
His in-race camera seemed to confirm that, as viewers heard Labonte seemingly smash the throttle in an attempt to spin the car out. While in any other racing series this would 100% be investigated and given a proper penalty, SRX prides itself on putting on a show for the fans, and if it meant getting a manufactured caution to do that, then the series will own that more than investigate it.
Even still, Bowyer could not work his way back through the field, using the high line that he made work all night. Though he blatantly ignored help from his in-race spotter Daly that could have helped him earlier.
With the move to ESPN, the broadcast began dialing drivers up under green this season, which seemed to be a popular move. Daly first hit up Bowyer at Pulaski County while he was trying to chase down Newman, with Bowyer responding, “I’m busy!” and “Wait, are we on the air right now?” as Daly began to spot for Bowyer in his battle with Newman.
ESPN didn’t stop there as Joey Logano began talking to Busch at Berlin, with Busch stealing Bowyer’s “I’m busy” line before telling his bitter rival, “Hearing you in my radio is lighting a f*ckin’ fire under my ass right now.”
ESPN took it a step further at Eldora, introducing driver-to-driver communication between Stewart and the other drivers. The move seemed to be a success which will likely lead to even more cross-driver communication in the 2024 season.
But is there going to be a 2024 season? It appears so, as CEO Don Hawk told Frontstretch that ESPN already had the dates set for 2024 and that multiple drivers and tracks have an interest in competing, though he didn’t go so far as to say who or where.
The move to Thursday nights allowed NASCAR stars to join in on the fun, and that’s a good start, but maybe some more NTT IndyCar Series presence is needed. Andretti, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan were really the only IndyCar drivers to make their presence known in the series. Josef Newgarden appeared in a one-off at Pulaski County, and Indy NXT driver Ernie Francis Jr. competed as well after running full-time in 2021. Ryan Hunter-Reay was supposed to return but backed out after replacing Daly as a full-time IndyCar driver.
However, Castroneves is the last IndyCar (and non-NASCAR driver for that matter) to win a race in SRX back in the 2022 season opener at Five Flags Speedway. For a series that prides itself on superstars and one that tried to model itself after IROC, perhaps more disciplines are needed to spice up the action. Stewart had that when NHRA champion Ron Capps joined the field at Eldora and dirt ringer Davenport joined the field late at Lucas Oil.
But even more could be great for the series. Jenson Button, Shane van Gisbergen, Mike Rockenfeller, and even someone like Colton Herta or Scott Dixon could make great one-off or full-time additions to the field. Time will only tell on that.
So for now, SRX will ride off into the sunset for a third consecutive year – older, wiser, and just as damned fun as it was in season one. When the garage opens for season four next summer, the unpredictability could be off the charts.
But hey, seasons one through three had that anyway.
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.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.