Drivers see Eldora race as significant step for NASCAR

Welcome to Tony Stewart’s world.

“It just confirms the level of insanity that is my life,” Stewart said of the challenge in reuniting dirt racing and NASCAR — and especially its fans, who often don’t share an appreciation for both — after a 43-year separation.

“I think this is huge. I was in the motorhome lot (Tuesday) night before I left the track and Kenny Schrader put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘This is big for all of us.’ This is more than just a truck race here. The big picture is this is big for every dirt track across the country. This is exposure a lot of these tracks never get. This is something that can really help short track racing.”

It certainly helped Schrader. He topped the Camping World Truck Series field to set fast time in the two-lap qualifying session at the Mudsummer Classic. Schrader, a dirt racing legend also making his 975th NASCAR start among the three national divisions, set fast time in 19.709 seconds (91.329 mph) around Eldora’s high-banked, half-mile oval.

Thirty-five drivers tested Eldora. Schrader, 58, prevailed to become NASCAR’s oldest pole winner among the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Truck series. The late Dick Trickle held the previous record at 57.

By most accounts — especially those on social media — the combination of dirt and NASCAR is a success. The race sold out in February. Eldora GM Roger Slack said 83 percent of the buyers had never purchased an advanced ticket to Eldora before. And of those who did buy tickets came from 48 different states as well as Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. The average crowd at a 2012 CWTS race was 30,000. About 25,000 were expected for Eldora.

It wasn’t just the racing fans — both dirt and asphalt — who were excited about NASCAR going back to its roots.

“If you look at the crowds we get at Truck races at 1.5-mile tracks, 20,000 would be huge,” said CWTS driver Johnny Sauter. “I don’t care what short track it is. They have some of the best fans in the world. If we run in Minnesota or Ohio it doesn’t matter. Short tracks typically have a really good fan base. I’m a short track racer at heart. I’m all for it.”

Both NASCAR and Eldora will have to undergo an evaluation process after Wednesday’s race. But judging from the buzz surrounding the Mudsummer Classic, NASCAR should return in 2014.

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