By MIKE MALLETT
OSKALOOSA, IA – By his own admission, Shane Stewart isn’t happy with how things have gone for him and his Larson Marks Racing Team in 2017. They’ve struggled to get any positive momentum going. Although they’ve had four wins on the World of Outlaw tour they can’t seem to find consistent speed on a night in, night out basis.
Monday night everyone saw a glimpse of how potent the team can be when things are clicking. They found plenty of what they’ve been looking for as Stewart captured his first ever win in the Front Row Challenge at the Southern Iowa Speedway (Osky). It was a good one to win as he banked $20,000 for his efforts.
“I just can’t thank Kyle (Larson), and of course Justin (Marks),” stated Stewart afterwards. “We haven’t had the best of seasons. We switched crew chiefs in the middle of the year and Lee’s (Stauffer) been doing a great job for us. I’m just happy to be here. It’s been a long time since I ran this race and to win it the way did, the fashion we did…that was an awesome race. I’m just happy to be standing here.”
Brad Sweet started on the pole of the 30-lap affair which propelled him to the lead on the opening lap. One circuit later his teammate Daryn Pittman rocketed by to take over the top spot as Stewart watched from the third position. As he ran behind the leaders smoke poured out of his number two. It looked like it could possibly be another lost night.
“I was nervous,” mentioned Stewart. “I saw the fire come up on the side of the engine. It was blowing oil. I thought surely this thing isn’t going to hurt itself.”
Luckily it didn’t. Stewart kept pace with the leaders until the first and only caution came on lap five for a slowing Ian Madsen. Pittman held the lead briefly after the restart before Sweet drove back by him to regain command on lap 10.
Sweet opened up the advantage over the field as Pittman dealt with the challenges of Stewart. He pressed and pressed before finally getting around Pittman with just 10 laps remaining. At that point Sweet had a wide margin on the field as he raced in traffic.
That traffic proved to be the difference maker as Sweet struggled. Stewart picked up steam. He began pressing Sweet for the lead with five laps to go before he dove to the bottoms of turns one and two with only two laps remaining to take control. Sweet remained with him as Larson also entered the fray making it a three car race for the lead.
“I just had to calm down there and start hitting my marks,” he said. “I couldn’t see Brad there for a long time. Then when I cleared Daryn, I saw that he was still right there. I checked the scoreboard going down the front straightaway and I still had 10 laps to get to him. All it kind of worked out well for me. I actually thought the caution was going to come out when Scelzi blew that tire, so I let up a little bit and of course he (Sweet) slid by me but I was able to get back by him.”
On the final lap Stewart had enough to keep Sweet and Larson at bay to collect the big win. Sweet held off Larson to finish in second. It was another disappointing outcome for the Grass Valley, Calif., driver as he finished second again.
“It’s disappointing to lose a $20,000 to win race here, but that seems to be how goes for us right now,” commented Sweet. “We’ve been up front a lot, led a lot of laps, but we just haven’t been able to get the job done lately.”
Sweet got caught up in traffic which proved to be the difference maker. He just couldn’t find a way to get through. That allowed both Stewart and Larson to get in the mix for the win.
“I knew some guys would be coming there,” stated Sweet. “I struggled to by the 2K (Austin McCarl). He got back by me. I knew I struggled there for a lap with him and that opened the door for Shane and Kyle there. I was trying to everything I had to get by him.”
Larson made an entertaining charge forward from the 13th starting position to make it a three horse race at the end. Ultimately he just didn’t have enough to get the job done as he lost his own battle with a slower car. He had a run on both Stewart and Sweet but traffic took away his opportunity to complete the pass.
“That final lap I needed to get clear of Shane off of two,” cited Larson. “Then the lapper into three, I just couldn’t carry my speed enough to slide him. Then Brad got back by me. It was a heck of a finish. I was watching the board. I could see the laps were winding down. I knew I had to get up there fast to have shot. We had a shot. It was just lapped traffic kind of messed it up for me a little bit, nothing they did wrong, it just didn’t work out for me.”
Pittman settled for fourth after leading early with Chad Kemenah coming from 16th to fifth to pick up the hard charger award.
FRONT ROW CHALLENGE UNOFFICIAL RESULTS (30-LAPS): 1 Shane Stewart 2 Brad Sweet 3 Kyle Larson 4 Daryn Pittman 5 Chad Kemenah 6 Carson Macedo 7 Brian Brown 8 James McFadden 9 Tim Keading 10 Jac Haudenschild 11 Jamie Veal 12 Cory Elaison 13 Paul McMahan 14 Austin McCarl 15 Lucas Wolfe 16 Trey Starks 17 Kyle Reinhardt 18 Chris Martin 19 Dominic Scelzi 20 Tim Shaffer 21 Tayler Malsam 22 Dustin Selvage 23 Don Droud 24 Ian Madsen
DNQ: Thomas Kennedy, Dane Lorenc, RJ Johnson, Rager Phillips, Tasker Phillips, Skylar Gee, Bob Weuve, Chase Johnson, Chase Wanner, Danny Lasoski, Dakota Hendrickson, Robert Bell
Heat Race Winners: Eliason, Keading, Stewart, McCarl
B-Main Winner: Starks