MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — After another opportunity gone off the rails, Shane Stewart was seemingly left for the racing dead once the 2019 sprint car racing season ended.
CJB Motorsports axed the 44-year-old and Stewart thought that was the sorrowful dagger to it all. He sold his racing seats and pondered other careers, but the one thing he didn’t relinquish was the inner belief that he could still, in fact, do it.
Bernie Stuebgen gave Stewart another chance, and on Friday, with round one of the World of Outlaws Summer Nationals hanging in the balance at Williams Grove, Stewart seized the night. Stewart led all 25 laps from the pole on Friday at Williams Grove to win his first World of Outlaws feature since June 1 of last year, out-running Donny Schatz for the $8,000 top prize.
“It’s obviously a big win for us,” Stewart said. “I was done. I just had it. I figured that was it. But I knew I still had it. I knew I could still win races. … Bernie [Stuebgen] called and said, ‘hey, I know you had a tough year last year, but let’s try to put together a small schedule and see what we can do.’ I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Admittedly, it wasn’t Stewart’s finest 25 laps. But the opportunity he thought he’d possibly never get again was suddenly there for the taking and once a path to victory became clear, Stewart never wavered.
“The stars have to align to win these races and I felt like the ball was in my court,” Stewart said.
Stewart timed seventh of the 35 cars that entered Friday’s preliminary event to Saturday’s $20,000-to-win event, which put him on the outside of the front row in heat three. He happened to start in the preferred lane, on the outside, for his eight-lap heat by the time polesitter Jacob Allen rounded turn two on the bottom, Stewart wound up his No. 71 topside and raced into clean air.
He won his race comfortably and then drew second for the fast-pass dash, again positioning himself to start on the outside front row. Using the top from the onset, Stewart once again powered his way into clean air, which eventually put him on the pole for the 25-lap main event.
Stewart was never challenged at the point, but he had to survive three restarts over the course of the night on laps two, 12, and 16 as well as a charging Schatz to seal the deal. On lap 12, before Brian Montieth hopped the cushion and came to a stop, Stewart’s 1.5-second had vanished when he was boxed in behind a pack of would-be lapped cars.
It allowed Anthony Macri to close in, within striking distance, but the caution came out right before any more damage could be done.
“I just didn’t know where to go,” Stewart said. “Fortunately, the yellow came out. Then the other yellows, I thought they hurt me a little bit. I’d get a rhythm down, and when you’re out leading here, the car feels really good. And then as soon as you get to a pack of cars, your car gets loose and tight and the track gets dirty.”
On the restart, Macri threw a sweeping slider into turn one, clearing Stewart before he ripped it back down across the track and back into clean air. He then established a 1.3-second lead with 10 laps to go and right as he neared more lapped traffic, Lance Dewease, who was trying for his 100th victory at Williams Grove, brought out the caution with nine laps to go.
From there, Stewart got a better jump on the restart and used clean air to his advantage on his ride back to victory lane, a long, arduous 13-month journey back to this sweet position.
“I just knew I needed to hit my marks,” Stewart said. “It’s obviously a big win for us. To get a win here is really special for me.”
Macri ended up finishing third, while Daryn Pittman and Brock Zearfoss rounded out the top five.
To see full results, turn to the next page.