SELINSGROVE, Pa. – Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart of Rushville, Ind., flew into Selinsgrove Saturday evening from the Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway, where the elite Sprint Cup series is competing this weekend, to race in Selinsgrove Speedway’s Empire Super Sprint/Mach 1 Chassis 358-360 sprint car challenge race.
In Stewart’s first-ever race at the historic half-mile clay oval, he made the winning pass by Pat Cannon of Etters on the 15th circuit in the 30-lap feature for the $3,000 victory. The win marked Stewart’s first of the year in a sprint car. In February, he won the DRIVE4COPD 300 Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona (Florida) International Speedway.
“It’s an honor to run here,” Stewart said in Victory Lane. “It’s a deal we tried last year but it got rained out and I’m glad we got back here tonight. The track got so wide and racey. It’s fun when you can go to a track and have a lot of room to race from top to bottom.”
In qualifying, Stewart set a new one-lap track record for 360 sprint cars at Selinsgrove in 17.168 seconds (111.053 average miles per hour) and also won his eight-lap heat race. The top two finishers in each of the four heats redrew a pill to determine the first eight starting positions in the feature.
“I was nervous when we drew an eight for the feature,” Stewart said. “Knowing that Pat Cannon and Mark Smith are up there, those are the guys you’re going to have to watch out for and have to beat.”
Stewart qualified 26th on Friday for this Sunday’s STP Gas Boosters 500 NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
“My pilots get a lot of third-shift flights,” Stewart commented on his hectic schedule traveling between race tracks. “But it makes it all worthwhile when I can come to a cool place like this. It’s obviously one of the most famous tracks in Pennsylvania. We got some momentum after tonight. It makes Sunday morning at the [NASCAR] drivers’ meeting a lot more fun when we can go there with a smile on our face.”
Also taking sprint car heat race wins were Cannon; Jessica Zemken of Sprakers, N.Y.; and Mark Smith of Sunbury.
Coleby Frye of Dover scored the $1,500 win in the 25-lap late model feature. Shaun Miller of Tower City was awarded the victory in the 15-lap pro stock feature, while Bob Bussey of Northumberland won the 12-lap roadrunner race.
Selinsgrove Speedway will present a four division show of 358 sprint cars, late models, pro stocks and roadrunners at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 13. Fans will be permitted to enter the pit area prior to the start of Saturday’s racing program as part of Camera & Autograph Night.
Second-place starter Zemken stormed into the lead at the drop of the green flag in the sprint car feature and a spirited side-by-side battle for the lead unfolded between Zemken and third-place starter Pat Cannon by the third circuit.
The event’s first caution flag unfurled on lap six when polesitter Steve Collins stopped on the track. For the lap seven restart, Zemken led Cannon, sixth-place starter Mark Smith and eighth-place starter Stewart.
After swapping the lead with Zemken for several laps, Cannon secured the lead on lap nine as Stewart advanced to third. On lap 11, Stewart drove by Zemken for the runner up position and set out on a high-speed chase after Cannon.
At the halfway point, Stewart made the winning pass by Cannon using the inside lane entering turn three. Once he pulled into the lead, Stewart checked out from the field and kept his Performance Chevrolet No. 14 out in front for the duration of the race.
At the checkered flag, Stewart was victorious by 2.5 seconds over Cannon, Smith, 17th-place starter TJ Stutts, and 10th-place starter Jason Shultz.