Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan swapped the lead five times in the final 56 laps of the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) season opener at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. with Castroneves eventually pulling out a 1.7-second advantage over second.
“This is fantastic,” Castroneves said to CBS Sports’ Matt Yocum following the win. ” Thank you SRX – everyone here. It’s just absolutely amazing.”
Castroneves teased that this stock car win might lead to greater things.
“[SRX CEO Don] Hawk and I had a bet,” Castroneves continued. “Winning the race, he will find me one race in NASCAR.”
This was the first SRX win for Castroneves after he came closest last year on at Eldora Speedway, a 0.5-mile dirt track owned by one of the series’ founders, Tony Stewart. Castroneves said at the time that victory helped improve his driving skill.
He was a late addition to the lineup, expanding it from 12 to 13 cars.
Castroneves won the second heat of the night after finishing 12th in Heat 1. The field is inverted between those two races and the clean air helped him cruise to that victory.
The 75-lap race was plagued by hot temperatures reaching up to 150 degrees inside the car that were not relieved by intense side-by-side action between Castroneves and fellow Brazil native Kanaan, but also between the “Local Hero” Bubba Pollard and Ryan Newman. In fact, a large part of Castroneves’ lead was gained as Pollard and Newman were unable to settle their dispute.
Pollard won Heat 1 and was forced to start at the back of the field in the second race. He climbed to second in that 33-lap affair, which proved to be good practice for the Main event. Pollard led 15 of the first 19 laps of the feature, but was forced to pit after contact with Newman cut a tire and sent him to the pits.
“I hate that I had a flat tire, but these (SRX) guys were good,” Pollard said at Pensacola New Journal. “It brought me back to my early Super Late Model days where you’re hanging on and doing all you gotta do.
“Hopefully, we made the short-track community proud. And to do it at Five Flags makes it so special. This is the place that taught me how to win at other places. Five Flags taught me patience and respect to my fellow racers.”
Newman held on to finish third in his SRX debut, with fourth-place Kanaan and Bobby Labonte in fifth rounding out the top five.
Heat Race No. 1 (33 laps): 1. Bubba Pollard, 2. Tony Kanaan, 3. Tony Stewart, 4. Paul Tracy, 5. Marco Andretti, 6. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 7. Ryan Newman, 8. Bobby Labonte, 9. Bill Elliott, 10. Greg Biffle, 11. Michael Waltrip, 12. Helio Castroneves, 13. Ernie Francis Jr.
Heat Race No. 2 (33 laps): 1. Helio Castroneves, 2. Michael Waltrip, 3. Ryan Newman, 4. Bill Elliott, 5. Bobby Labonte, 6. Tony Kanaan, 7. Bubba Pollard, 8. Tony Stewart, 9. Greg Biffle, 10. Marco Andretti, 11. Paul Tracy, 12. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 13. Ernie Francis Jr.
Feature (75 laps): 1. Helio Castroneves, 2. Bubba Pollard, 3. Ryan Newman, 4. Tony Kanaan, 5. Bobby Labonte, 6. Greg Biffle, 7. Marco Andretti, 8. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 9. Bill Elliott, 10. Tony Stewart, 11. Ernie Francis Jr., 12. Paul Tracy, 13. Michael Waltrip
Points Standings: 1. Tony Kanaan (36 points), 2. Ryan Newman (36 points, -0), 3. Bobby Labonte (29 points, -7), 4. Marco Andretti (26 points, -10), 5. Tony Stewart (21 points, -15), 6. Greg Biffle (21 points, -15), 7. Bill Elliott (21 points, -15), 8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (18 points, -18), 9. Michael Waltrip (15 points, -21), 10. Paul Tracy (13 points, -23), 11. Ernie Francis Jr. (6 points, -30)