Tony Stewart SRX getty
Getty Images

The second race of the 2022 SRX season at South Boston Speedway offered fans an old NASCAR lesson: an amped-up Tony Stewart off the racetrack becomes an almost unbeatable competitor on it. Stewart found himself angry midway through the night, having words with Ernie Francis, Jr. after the two made contact near the end of Heat 2. Stewart felt Francis pulled a dirty trick, cutting down on him as the two were battling for position.

"They pissed off Uncle Tony right now," Stewart said in intermission. "So, they're about ready to get a dose of it they don't want… I'm done playing nice with everybody."

With that, the 2021 SRX Champion hunkered down and straight bulldozed his way right to the front. Taking control during the final 40 laps of the main event, Stewart held off Greg Biffle for his third career SRX win in eight races. Behind him, only 10 of 12 cars finished, many of them wounded on a night fenders crumpled and emotions ran high.

Let's take a closer look at how Stewart pulled it off at South Boston, along with other storylines that should carry over to next week at Stafford Motor Speedway.

Tony's temper turns his year around

Stewart had the worst race of his SRX career at Five Flags Speedway earlier in June, running just 10th in the Main Event. South Boston started promising, with a runner-up finish in Heat 1, but a sixth-place finish in Heat 2 led to contact with Francis and concerns the No. 14 car was wounded.

Turned out it wasn't the car who was hurt: it was Stewart's feelings. An angry exchange with Francis was caught live, Stewart grabbing Francis' firesuit while arguing about the way he was being raced.

Stewart's disgust carried over to after the race, where he was still upset over how Francis and some of the other drivers slammed into each other, roughing up equipment in order to pass people.

"I am excited and honored to race with these guys," he said. "But some of them, there are some habits they have from other divisions they run that aren't acceptable in short track racing."

Francis, meanwhile, felt Stewart was overreacting, calling his move "rubbing's racing."

"For him to hit me under caution," he added. "That's kind of a dirty move."

The incident clearly left Stewart fired up, and he channeled that emotion into a strong push to the front during the main event.

Move over, INDYCAR -- NASCAR is back

The back-and-forth battle between the open-wheel and stock car racing stars tilted NASCAR's way at South Boston. Stock car racers finished 1-2-3-4 in the main event, up front the majority of the night one week after only Ryan Newman led laps at Five Flags Speedway.

"It was a great night," said runner-up finisher Greg Biffle. "Our car was really fast. [Tony Stewart just] had a little better tire than I did at the end."

Pole sitter Bobby Labonte ran third, one of three top-5 finishes on the night as he remains the most consistent driver in SRX. Newman was fourth, taking the championship point lead despite coming up short against his former NASCAR rivals.

"It seemed like we just settled in to just being an equal [on speed]," he said, claiming track position made the difference at the end. And Newman, unlike some other drivers in the field, was unwilling to rough someone up and bang fenders to move forward for position.

Marco came oh-so-close

The lone open-wheel hope came from Marco Andretti, neck-and-neck with Stewart during the first half of the main event. The duo ran side-by-side, swapping the lead until a mistake by Andretti left an opening for Biffle to slip by for second.

That's when the former open wheeler got a little too aggressive, dive bombing the corner to get by Biffle. The resulting spin ruined his night and left him limping to the finish with a damaged race car.

"Tony got me up the hill, I got crossed by Biffle, tried to recross him, which I think was impatient on my part… he caught me off guard and I kind of took myself out," Andretti said. "Last week, I was too conservative on the tires and this week, I was too impatient. I'll find that balance."

Poor Paul Tracy

Tracy was involved in 15 incidents last season in SRX, earning the bad boy tag while struggling to finish races. This time around, he added two more crashes to his plate at South Boston -- but neither one appeared to be his fault.

Tracy was leading Heat 2 when contact with Castroneves spun out the No. 3.

"He dumped me," Tracy said, expressing anger but unable to get back up to Helio trapped in traffic.

Then, another former IndyCar rival, Ryan Hunter-Reay, pushed him up the track and slammed Tracy's No. 3 car into the wall.

That left the worst possible result for Tracy: dead last in both heats and the main event. He's now led 32 laps this season, matching his total for all of 2021 but has absolutely nothing to show for it. 

Odds 'N' Ends

Michael Waltrip was also furious at Hunter-Reay after contact between them destroyed his No. 15 car, leaving him out of the race in 11th.

"He's gonna hear from Uncle Mike," Waltrip said later. "We're not having a beer together…"

Hunter-Reay also complained about the balance on his car, frustrated over all the contact and a disappointing ninth-place result.

--

Local hero Peyton Sellers has a grandstand named after him in South Boston but was never a factor, complaining the sway bar might have gotten unhooked in the main event. He wound up 10th.

--

NASCAR's Trackhouse Racing Team owner Justin Marks will replace Helio Castroneves in the race at Stafford Motor Speedway next week. Marks, a former NASCAR driver himself, is also rumored as the top candidate to deliver Castroneves a Daytona 500 ride in February 2023.