Don’t think of it as a busman’s holiday. Instead, when Tony Stewart trades his asphalt obligations to go play in the dirt consider it a sprint-car salvation.
It’s not unusual for the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion to find a grassroots dirt track to race at during busy Sprint Cup weekends. On Friday and Saturday he managed to get away to his favorite track, Eldora Speedway, which he owns.
Stewart chased a coveted win at the historic speedway racing with the World of Outlaws winged sprint car series both days. The driver with Eldora wins in USAC sprints and midgets, UMP DIRTcar modifieds and late models and the NRA Sprint Series wanted to add an Outlaws victory. After finishing 16th in the feature Friday, it appeared Stewart’s Sprint Cup tough luck made the 1,200-mile round-trip journey from Talladega, Ala., with him Saturday.
After arriving at the track late, reportedly due to a flat tire on his plane, he hopped in his No. 14 sprint car and ripped off the fifth-fastest qualifying lap, 13.330, just off the pace of Joey Saldana’s quick time of 13.185. But Stewart — mired in 22nd place in the Sprint Cup standings entering today’s Aaron’s 499, where he starts 25th — broke a rear end in his heat. He then won the Last Chance Showdown to start 14th in the feature.
“I feel like our car is pretty good,” Stewart said after that Last Chance win. “The car is probably better than I am right now.”
On Friday night Stewart finished 16th after starting 24th.
For Stewart, who ran 46 dirt races last year, the results aren’t always the goal.
“It’s like hitting a reset button for me. It’s a lot of effort, a lot of money and a lot of time involved to do all this, but it’s worth it,” Stewart told ESPN recently. “It’s worthwhile because it’s something not everybody can do.
“It’s just what I enjoy. It’s my release. I’m a very competitive person. I like my downtime, but I like being busy on the weekends. I enjoy being able to go run dirt races and Cup races. Being busy with all of that keeps me sharp.”
Friday recap: Australian Kerry Madsen scored his first Eldora victory with the WoO win on the opening night. Madsen wrestled the lead from Craig Dollansky with 17 laps to go in the 30-lapper.
“I’m just relieved to win. I just wanted so bad to win here, so to get one is great,” said Madsen, who logged a pair of runner-up finishes in the Kings Royal in 2010 and 2012. “It’s a special place for us.”