Ryan Newman, who never won a championship in either NASCAR Cup or Xfinity Series competition, is the champion of Season 3 of the Superstar Racing Experience seres.
Newman finished 45 points ahead of Marco Andretti (who beat Newman for the title last year), as well as 45 points ahead of Brad Keselowski (Andretti earned the tie-breaker).
While Newman was the big story of the season, three-time national dirt late model champ Jonathan Davenport was the big story of the finale.
Ryan Newman wasted little time claiming the third championship in Superstar Racing Experience history, doing so with an eighth-place finish in the first heat race in ESPN’s six-week Thursday Night Thunder’s season finale at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo.
Newman, who finished second last year to eventual champion Marco Andretti, wasted little time in going for the championship, earning enough points in the first heat race to claim the SRX crown and eliminate his three closest challengers, namely, 2021 inaugural SRX champ Tony Stewart, Andretti and NASCAR Cup star Brad Keselowski.
Newman never won a championship in either NASCAR Cup or Xfinity Series competition, with his career high point being a win in the 2008 Daytona 500. But he was not to be denied of his first SRX championship.
“It means a lot, no doubt, any kind of championship (like) the SRX series,” Newman said while celebrating in victory lane. “The Superstar Racing Experience, what can you say? Guys like Tony Stewart, Jonathan Davenport, who has won just about everything there is on dirt, racing against Kenny Schrader and Kenny Wallace, Helio Castroneves, all that stuff, it’s pretty special. It’s just a whole lot of fun to be doing what I’m doing.”
Newman broke out into a huge laugh after being doused with beer afterward while doing a post-race interview with ESPN.
But the joke was on all of Newman’s competitors, primarily the six other drivers who competed “full-time” in the series’ six races in as many weeks, but fell short of overtaking Newman for the crown: namely, Keselowski, Andretti, Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Hailie Deegan and Ken Schrader. Former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy was also a full-time competitor in the series until he was suspended for the rest of the season after being involved in a big wreck in the third race of the season.
Once the checkered flag fell on Thursday night, Newman finished 45 points ahead of Andretti (who beat Newman for the title last year), as well as 45 points ahead of Keselowski (Andretti earned the tie-breaker).
Newman continued a great streak that he had been on: he is the only full-time driver in the series to finish in the top-five in all of the six main events.
Meanwhile, Stewart, who dominated at the track he owns, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, last week, finished fourth in the final standings.
2023 SRX Final Standings
Ryan Newman - 212
Brad Keselowski - 167 (-45)
Marco Andretti - 167 (-45)
Tony Stewart - 164 (-48)
Ken Schrader - 150 (-62)
Bobby Labonte - 145 (-67)
Hailie Deegan - 140 (-72)
Davenport Steals Finale Spotlight
While Newman was the big story of the season, three-time national dirt late model champ Jonathan Davenport was the big story of the night, winning the first of two 25-lap heats, as well as the 90-lap main event.
Davenport was brought in as somewhat of a ringer due to his prowess of racing on dirt.
“I’m speechless, this is awesome,” Davenport said. “I was just out there pacing myself, trying to keep the edges on the tires. Man, this is just such an awesome experience.
“Thanks to SRX for giving me this opportunity and to race with some of my heroes, some legends, some superstars and this old country boy from Georgia who runs dirt cars.”
The 3/8-mile, semi-banked dirt track located in Wheatland, Mo., on the northern edge of the Lake of the Ozarks, is owned by Lucas Oil founder Forrest Lucas and provided a great setting for the season-ending and championship-deciding event.
Built in 2001, Lucas Oil Speedway put on a heck of a show for the sellout crowd that was in attendance, and was ultimately one of the best races in the series this season, as many of the regulars essentially left their best for last.
Thursday Night Thunder
Here’s how all three races – the two 25-lap heat races and the 90-lap main event – played out:
HEAT NO. 1: Jonathan Davenport, Ken Schrader, Clint Bowyer, Marco Andretti, Brad Keselowski, Hailie Deegan, Ernie Francis Jr., Ryan Newman, Kenny Wallace, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Helio Castroneves.
HEAT NO. 2: Labonte, Bowyer, Wallace, Davenport, Andretti, Francis, Newman, Stewart, Keselowski, Deegan, Schrader, Castroneves.
MAIN EVENT: Davenport, Keselowski, Schrader, Newman, Bowyer, Andretti, Stewart, Wallace, Castroneves, Deegan, Francis and Labonte.
Tony Stewart had a rough main event, being forced to the pits about one-third of the way through the 90-lap race for significant work to be done on his car to try and get it to turn better and be more free. Unfortunately, the changes did little to help Stewart and he ultimately finished seventh in the main event. It marked the first time the NASCAR Hall of Famer has failed to finish either first (four times) or second (once) in the six races contested on dirt tracks in SRX history. … Helio Castroneves had a great line after the second heat race, saying he was at least consistent: finishing last in both the first and second heat race. He improved to finish ninth in the main event. … Here’s an interesting statistic: even with the second race of the season having to be contested at the same location as the series opener—Stafford Speedway in Connecticut—the series put on 2,881 miles traveling between it's home base in Charlotte, N.C., and the season’s six races. … Thursday night was somewhat of a Missouri homecoming for two of the drivers in the 12-driver field, as Kenny Schrader and Kenny Wallace are both natives of the Show Me State. Wallace moved back to Missouri a couple of years ago after living in the Charlotte area for roughly 20 years. Wallace reportedly had 70 friends and family members on hand to watch him race Thursday, although he unfortunately couldn’t finish any higher than eighth in the main event, but he did take some consolation in finishing third in Heat Race No. 2.
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on X (formerly Twitter) at @JerryBonkowski