The second week of the Camping World SRX series at Knoxville Raceway built on the success of its debut. So did inaugural winner Doug Coby, whose reward for slaying the motorsports legends in this division was a deal to prove himself in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series later this summer.
"That's the first time anybody's ever called and said, 'Hey, let's do this,'" Coby said of his one-race partnership with GMS Racing for Bristol Motor Speedway. "And it was really was never about what [money] I could bring to the table."
Already, SRX achieved its goal of bringing more attention to local short track stars. A 41-year-old, six-time champion of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series had flown under the radar until his stirring performance last Saturday night at Stafford Motor Speedway.
"If the worst thing that comes from this is I get a one-race Truck ride," he continued. "And I get to talk a whole lot about short track racing in front of different fans and different people, then mission accomplished, as far as I'm concerned."
This week's local legend, Brian Brown, fell short as SRX's big names returned to the front of the field. Tony Stewart wound up in victory lane at Knoxville for the first time as a driver, cruising to a 1.6-second win while leading 43 of 50 laps in the feature.
But the biggest buzz wasn't the winner; it was who finished directly behind him. That leads off 5 takeaways from race two of this six-week summer series on CBS.
1) Hailie Deegan Shines
The 19-year-old Deegan is a teenage racing sensation, a meteoric rise that's landed her full-time in NASCAR's Truck Series. Deegan's YouTube channel alone has risen to 221,000 subscribers, off-track popularity that puts her in position to be the next Danica Patrick.
A forgettable rookie season (Deegan hasn't led a lap) had some whispering that star was fading. Saturday? She slung dirt in the faces of critics on a national stage. Runs of third, fifth, then second in the main event had her running toe-to-toe with Stewart. A last-lap pass of Ernie Francis, Jr. for that runner-up spot was done with finesse, keeping her nose clean and showcasing skills that won her a NASCAR ARCA West Dirt Series race back in 2019.
"My goal coming into this race was to prove to everyone that I deserved to be there," Deegan said. "I feel we did that tonight … we just ran a clean race, just wrapped the bottom, stayed consistent, ran my line."
She even stood tall in the face of seven-footer Brad Daugherty in her post-race interview. Subbing for Tony Kanaan, she deserves a cut of the SRX title if he wins it.
2) The Excellence of Ernie
23-year-old Ernie Francis joined Deegan to make the combined age of the other two drivers on the podium eight years younger than Stewart. A guy who had never driven dirt until this month won a tune-up June 5th at Hendry County Speedway in Florida, then acted like he had run it for decades at Knoxville.
Putting together runs of fourth, second and third, Francis jumped to second in the standings, only 11 points behind Stewart. It's shaping up to be a youth-versus-experience battle for the title that may reward the Trans-Am champ with a larger opportunity for 2022 and beyond.
"I was trying to get to the back of Tony's bumper to try and get by him," Francis said. "But you can't be happier than this … I can't wait to get to the next one."
3) Michael Waltrip leading on dirt?
That's a sentence no one ever thought they'd say. Waltrip had a rollercoaster night, starting with a Heat 1 spin that left him last. But the two-time Daytona 500 winner found a rhythm, rising to lead seven laps during the main event before fading to fifth.
"I thought, if Michael Waltrip beats me, I need to go to therapy or something," Stewart joked after the race. Waltrip, who famously started his NASCAR Cup career 0-for-462, has always been known more for his off-track personality as a racing analyst.
Knoxville, for one night, changed the narrative. The one caveat for Waltrip is a second incident in as many weeks with Paul Tracy, irritating the IndyCar star to the point he's seeking revenge.
You confused, Paul Tracy? "I'm about fed up with Michael Waltrip. I'm about to get boogity, boogity, boogity on him in the next race."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) June 20, 2021
4) And then… there was Stewart
Let's not forget how easy Stewart made running dirt look. After a shaky Heat 2, he put it all together and breezed past his challengers in the feature.
No one's really surprised to see the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion visit victory lane in a series he co-founded. That said, a driver who still moonlights on dirt knows the significance of a win at the Sprint Car Capital of the World.
"This is where I've watched Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser and the greatest of the greats in sprint car racing," said Stewart, who has run the Knoxville Nationals as a driver but never won it. "This [victory lane] is the place I've always wanted to be, for sure."
5) Turns out SRX can do dirt
There were more than a few skeptics about putting these legendary drivers on dirt. Half the 12-driver field had very limited or no experience on this track type going in.
Turns out you can teach some old dogs new tricks after all. The competition was impressive, top to bottom, as even the IndyCar stars translated their open-wheel experience into successful runs (Marco Andretti ran second in Heat 1, then Helio Castroneves led parts of Heat 2). There were a handful of cautions, but no major wrecks or embarrassing moments.
One week after Coby schooled the field, the SRX full-timers even put the local stars in their place. Scott Bloomquist won Heat 2, then spun in the main event and wasn't a factor; Brian Brown lost it multiple times and never ran higher than seventh.
"I thought our drivers did a fantastic job," said SRX co-founder Ray Evernham. "I felt like, for our first race on first, it was pretty respectable, really. We had a couple of little problems, but no really big issues, and I think the fans saw some great racing."
One small issue continues to be Bill Elliott's car; mechanical problems in two straight races have put him at a disadvantage. But by and large, after 1.3 million viewers Week 1 SRX has put together a foundation to build from.