ROSSBURG, Ohio — Shane Stewart successfully fended off the field Friday night, ultimately winning opening night of Four Crown Nationals weekend at Eldora Speedway.
Though the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series was only scheduled to compete in a one-day, 30-lap feature that paid $10,000, Stewart and company set the tone for the track’s 35th running of the storied event.
The opening day of the two-day blockbuster began with the inaugural “BeFour The Crowns Showdown,” featuring the Outlaws and the region’s best sprint car drivers. In a dramatic series of cautions, the 24 determined drivers tested the limits of their winged-sprints in the race’s opening laps.
On the “Big E’s” half-mile, two red flags and a yellow ultimately waved the feature into an “open red,” allowing teams to make certain adjustments to the car.
The No. 2 Larson Marks Racing entry, which started fifth in the feature, shot out of a cannon on the final restart of the first lap. Stewart eventually solidified second place within the first three laps.
“I don’t know what to say,” Stewart said. “I was actually nervous in that race. I had one good restart, one bad restart and [finally] one good restart. On the open red I told my guys, ‘I don’t know if my car is going to be good enough or not.’ Usually you’re pretty good starting up-top, but the cushion was so high that if I started up there, [Pittman] would get a run on me coming out of [turn] one. It’s just all about hitting your marks after that.”
It did not take Stewart long to reel-in 2013 series champion Daryn Pittman, who led the lineup into the green flag courtesy of the Craftsman Club Dash. Stewart, sweeping under Pittman, became the new race leader on the 11th lap. Thereon, Stewart made his time on the top of the cushion.
With 10 laps remaining, Stewart increased his advantage to 2.570 seconds, and he led by as much as 3.573 seconds until the race’s final red flag regrouped the field double-wide.
Stewart held off Pittman’s No. 9 Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb GF1 car once more, and Logan Schuchart got a jump on defending series champion Donny Schatz for third.
“Yeah some restarts were good and some were bad,” Schuchart said. “I was surprised Shane took the bottom [on the final restart]. It was better for me to start on the outside. I feel like at Eldora last time we got to run down the hill and it really helps you.”
“I just kind of got in my own way on the restart. It felt good behind Daryn running my line, seeing where he went for a few laps before I felt like I could make a move. We weren’t good enough to beat Shane, but we’re happy to get a top three.”
Stewart extended his lead again to more than two seconds, ultimately finishing 2.359 seconds ahead of Schuchart.
Schuchart made a last push on a fading Pittman with his No. 1S Bobby Allen Triple X car, eventually making the move in the final laps. Schuhart won his heat race earlier in the program.
“It just took forever to get going,” Pittman said. “I kind of figured how the track was and the way we were going, that we were almost going to go green-checked. We had nothing for the No. 2 car. Once he was in the lead, he checked out. We’ll just keep working hard and keep digging.”
The victory was Stewart’s second consecutive series win and his eighth of the season.
“To win two in a row, it’s just very special,” Stewart said. “It’s obviously pretty special to win here … any time you can win here. I just have to thank Tony Stewart and all the hardworking crew that takes care of this place. They always do a great job. I just have to thank everyone who’s involved with this team. Everyone puts in their little bits and pieces here and I’m just blessed to be the driver.”