Ernie Francis, Jr. survives late-race fireworks to win SRX Round 4 at Lucas Oil Raceway

SRX Lucas Oil Francis
Dylan Buell / Getty Images

The cleanest race in the Camping World SRX Series’ short history devolved into a slugfest in the final 10 laps and Ernie Francis, Jr. had the biggest fists in route to his first series win at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Each of the first three SRX races was affected by caution flags typical of short track racing. In fact, the drivers didn’t make it out of the heats in those events before drawing a caution for cause. The predominately high-groove Lucas Oil Raceway forced the drivers into a more cautious approach – for a while – and with the exception of competition cautions to bunch up the field, the yellow did not fly until 66 laps into the 76-Lap Main Event honoring Independence Day, 1776.

Once the field was bunched, the gloves came off as drivers sensed the urgency and began to beat and bang. In the end, Francis showed the greatest skill and control. He held off Bobby Labonte in a two-lap shootout.

“I’m totally speechless,” Francis told pit reporter Matt Yocum after the race. “This is incredible. Man those last 10 – 15 laps, they felt like an eternity out there. All the cautions. I was just focusing on getting a good restart. Me and Scott Speed went after it for a few laps there, side-by-side. I didn’t know how that was going to end up. Got a few donuts on the car, but I couldn’t be happier with it.”

It doesn’t take long to complete 10 laps on a short track. Restarts are the best time to pounce and that is precisely what Scott Speed did. He won Heat 1 and knew he had a fast car, so when he lined up to the inside of Francis, he drove hard into Turn 1. After getting loose and almost crashing both cars, Speed was momentarily ahead before having his lead erased.

With tires hot and worn from his first attempt to pass Francis, Speed drifted back as far as fourth before an incident with Helio Castroneves gave him the final podium spot.

“Man, we had such a good battle, me and Francis,” Speed said in a release. “We were definitely the best two cars and we were playing cat-and-mouse with our tires, saving them. And then, with 10 to go, it was ‘game on.’ We were both going to charge and we had such an awesome side-by-side race. I just got a little bit too loose underneath him with a couple laps to go and fell back, lost a couple of spots. But it was a great race. I had so much fun.”

SRX Lucas Oil Francis
In the closing laps, a heated battle between eventual winner Ernie Francis, Jr. and Scott Speed provided some Fourth of July fireworks. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The incident with Castroneves had an unfortunate consequence for the driver who entered the race second in the points. Speed tagged Castroneves in the left rear just as a caution waved for an incident between Local Hero Bobby Santos, III and Paul Tracy. The contact caused the reigning Indy 500 champ to slap the wall. Castroneves retaliated. Too aggressively, as it turned out, and did more damage to his car than Speed’s.

Castroneves was on pace to continue a perfect streak of top-fives in the series. This was not the race Castroneves had in mind to to continue “improving his driving skills” after two incredible runs on dirt.

“We came out of Turn 4 and I got into Helio a little bit,” Speed said. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m having a good time here regardless of where I finish. But I’m happy for a guy like Ernie because for a kid like that, we’ve all had our careers in motor racing, but stuff like this can help him establish himself and that’s the big picture here.”

Battling for third at the time of the incident, Castroneves was poised to make up a lot of championship points on Tony Stewart, who struggled with his handling throughout the Main and fell back as far as 10th. When the checkers waved, Stewart clawed his way to seventh while Castroneves had settled for ninth – allowing Stewart to head into the final two races with a 30-point advantage over Francis. Castroneves fell to third in the standings, 40 points in arrears.

In addition to holding the distinction of waiting the longest for a caution for cause, this was the first time in the short history of the series that a heat winner did not win the race. Francis finished seventh in Heat 1 and fourth in Heat 2.

After winning the last two races in the series, Stewart’s seventh-place finish was surprising.

“I was happy after the heat races and we just tried something in the Main,” Stewart said. “I was tight in the center (of the corner) and was a little loose off and I didn’t figure we could fix the center, so we tried to fix the exit and tried something air pressure-wise and it did not work. It was a bad call on my part on what I thought the change needed to be and dialed myself right out.

“We’ve just got to stay focused from here. No matter how good the point lead seems right now, you can throw it away in two weeks and lose the thing. We’ve just got to throw this night out and go back and get ready for Slinger next week – a place I’ve never been to. I don’t think any of us have, actually. So we’ll just have to focus and try and do a better job than we did here.”

Round 5 of the six-race short-track series will be July 10 at Slinger (Wis.) Speedway.

For the penultimate race, the Local Hero will be Tuesday night’s winner of the Slinger Nationals, one of the nation’s premiere short track events. Past winners of that race include some of NASCAR’s greats including Matt Kenseth, who’s eight wins include the 2019 edition of the race, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and Alan Kulwicki.

Hailie Deegan will return for her second series race. She finished a strong second on the dirt at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway and was wedged between the two points’ contenders, Stewart and Francis.


Heat Race No. 1 (23 laps, starting lineup determined by random draw): 1. Scott Speed (Started 1; led laps 1-23), 2. Tony Kanaan (3), 3. Michael Waltrip (2), 4. Tony Stewart (5), 5. Bobby Santos III (4), 6. Bobby Labonte (6), 7. Ernie Francis, Jr. (10), 8. Marco Andretti (12), 9. Helio Castroneves (11th), 10. Bill Elliott (8), 11. Paul Tracy (7), 12. Willy T. Ribbs (9)

Heat Race No. 2 (21 laps, starting order was invert of Heat 1 finish): 1. Helio Castroneves (4; led laps 5-21), 2. Bobby Labonte (7), 3. Tony Stewart (9), 4. Ernie Francis, Jr. (6), 5. Marco Andretti (5), 6. Paul Tracy (2; led laps 1-4), 7. Scott Speed (12), 8. Michael Waltrip (10th), 9. Bobby Santos III (8), 10. Tony Kanaan (11), 11. Willy T. Ribbs (1), 12. Bill Elliott (3)

Feature (76 laps; starting lineup was based on finishing position in Heat Race No. 2): 1. Ernie Francis Jr. (6; led laps 12-76), 2. Bobby Labonte (3rd), 3. Scott Speed (2; led laps 1-12), 4. Marco Andretti (8), 5. Bobby Santos III (9), 6. Michael Waltrip (5), 7. Tony Stewart (1), 8. Paul Tracy (10th), 9. Helio Castroneves (4), 10. Tony Kanaan (7), 11. Willy T. Ribbs (12), 12. Bill Elliott (11)

Points Standings: 1. Tony Stewart (160), 2. Ernie Francis Jr. (130), 3. Helio Castroneves (120), 4. Bobby Labonte (115), 5. Marco Andretti (111), 6. Michael Waltrip (86), 7. Paul Tracy (83), 8. Tony Kanaan (65) *, 9. Bill Elliott (52), 10. Willy T. Ribbs (45)

* Hailie Deegan earned points for Kanaan at Knoxville

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.