30 Nov 2021 | 07:30
With 19 NASCAR Most Popular Driver awards between them, there’s no doubt who delivered a sellout crowd for the SRX season finale. Bill and Chase Elliott put on a show at the Nashville Fairgrounds that had some 14,000 fans cheering from start to finish.
The Elliotts were the only drivers to lead in both Heat 1 and the Main Event. For most of the night, it looked like dad was in position to beat his son until a slip on a late restart opened the door with 22 laps remaining.
“I just rolled up the hill,” Bill Elliott said. “I lost my drive up off and I was really having a hard time controlling my wheel spin up off the corner.”
That was just enough for Chase, a former winner at Nashville in the prestigious All-American 400, to get out front and cruise to the win over Tony Stewart. His father held on for third, a season-best SRX finish in a storybook ending for his SRX Local All-Star son (who also happens to be the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion).
The excitement over the Elliotts wasn’t the only buzz to come out of Nashville. Here’s a closer look at their impact among five takeaways from SRX’s season finale.
1) Bill is one proud papa
The SRX season had been a disaster for Awesome Bill heading into the final race. He’d never finished higher than ninth in any main event, injured his hand in a wreck at Eldora Speedway and experienced mechanical problems in back-to-back weeks driving the No. 9.
For Nashville, SRX founder Ray Evernham gave Elliott the option to switch to a backup car. Tony Stewart then gifted Elliott the pole for Heat 1 to start alongside his son. The stage was set for the 1988 Cup Series champion to have the best possible chance at success.
Bill delivered, driving like a man possessed over the course of all three races. After leading just one lap in the first five weeks, he led a Nashville-high 77 Saturday night while snagging a Heat 1 win.
“I don’t know who lit a fire under him,” Chase said about his dad after the race. “I had not seen that in him in years. It was amazing and a lot of fun … those are moments I will cherish forever.”
Could it be that’s the last time we’ll see Bill behind the wheel of a race car? He wouldn’t commit either way but, at age 65, he’s got nothing left to prove. If it is the final race, what a way to go out in just the second time ever he’s raced against son Chase in a major event.
“For me, I finally got what I wanted out of a racecar and I felt good out there,” Elliott said. “I thought, I’m on Medicare and I’m trying to keep up with these young kids.”
2) Your 2021 SRX Champion: Tony Stewart
The SRX title was anti-climactic for much of the season as Stewart won two of the first three races. Clinching the championship by the end of Heat 1, the three-time NASCAR Cup champion got to lay back and have fun while watching Bill and Chase go at it up in front of him.
“How could you ask for more than to finish between two Elliotts?” Stewart said after winding up second. “That’s pretty badass in itself.”
I’m sure he feels the same about the SRX title some 15 years after winning the last International Race of Champions title (what this series was modeled after). Some five years after retiring from NASCAR, Stewart has to feel good about showing the racing audience he’s still got plenty left in the tank at age 50.
“This series has every variable that you wanted and looked for,” Stewart said. “You had good racing, you had different winners, you had awesome crew chiefs, awesome ringers, awesome local track champions.”
They’ll all be gunning after Stewart again for the title come 2022.
3) Chase-ing the Local All-Star
OK, so it’s hard to call Chase the local guy considering his NASCAR Cup pedigree. But technically, he notched the second win in six races for a local All-Star rotation hired to moonlight against the series regulars.
Their final tally is pretty impressive, Doug Coby setting the stage with a dominant win in the first weekend at Stafford Motor Speedway. Two of the other locals finished second in the main (Kody Swanson, Luke Fenhaus) as their point totals combined would have left them runner-up in the points chase behind Stewart.
It’s an idea that paid off handsomely and boosted the profile of the local short tracks these drivers come from.
4) Paul Tracy leaves SRX the villain
Before SRX, younger fans simply knew Tracy as the analyst for NBC IndyCar broadcasts. But a six-race stint running this series brought back old memories of how he was the bad boy of American open-wheel racing back in the day.
Tracy was the only driver to be involved in a wreck all six weekends as his 15 total incidents led the SRX series by a country mile. In the process, he angered everyone from mild-mannered Bobby Labonte to up-and-coming teenager Hailie Deegan. The latter caused an Instagram back-and-forth that lasted for days after last weekend’s race at Slinger Speedway, forcing a come-to-Jesus moment in the SRX hauler to set the record straight before Nashville.
Looking back, Tracy didn’t have a lot of on-track success (no wins) but he gave SRX a more important ingredient it needed for success: a villain willing to accept the drama and boos that come with it.
5) SRX just keeps on spreading the love
We’ve already seen three drivers benefit from wins in SRX main events. Coby earned himself a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opportunity at Bristol Motor Speedway in September. Ernie Francis, Jr., who ran second in the points chase, has NASCAR buzzing about him while he and Willy T. Ribbs are pushing IndyCar. Marco Andretti found a second wind with a racing career that was winding down before SRX; now, he’s negotiating for a part-time NASCAR Xfinity Series ride.
Chase’s victory put the icing on the cake on a different way. One, it was an olive branch from NASCAR, who had spent the summer giving this all-star series the cold shoulder. Two, his presence helped NASCAR out in putting eyes on a Fairgrounds track they’re desperate to renovate and bring back to the Cup Series schedule for the first time since 1984.
There’s still a lot of issues to get the track NASCAR ready (parking alone is a big one) but there’s no better salesman to get the neighborhood on board than your sport’s most popular driver. For that, NASCAR owes SRX a debt of gratitude.