As Tony Stewart completed an interview at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, he said, “I’ve got to go run a sprint-car race.”
He was scheduled to drive a Lucas Oil ASCS winged sprint car at Cocopah Speedway at Somerton, Ariz.
As sprint-car races go, the Conopah Challenge Cup isn’t one of the biggest. However, there were a number of pretty good sprint-car racers in competition, including Lucas Wolfe, Brain Brown, Danny Lasoski, Johnny Hererra, Brady Bacon and Jeff Swindell.
Stewart got his evening off to a good start by winning his heat race and earning a berth in the feature event. The other heat races were won by Mitch Olson, Henry Van Dam and Dustin Morgan, while Bacon prevailed in the hooligan.
Jason Johnson won the pill draw for the right to start the feature on the pole, with Swindell on the outside. Morgan, Olson, Stewart and Wolfe made up the balance of the first three rows. Johnson jumped into the lead with Swindell alongside. However, Olson brought his mount up to make it three wide as the leaders crossed the finish line for the first time, edging Swindell for second. Swindell’s luck continued to worsen as a torsion bolt failure ended his race on the third circuit.
As the leaders entered lapped traffic, Johnson was able to maintain his lead while Olson and Stewart battled for second place as they maneuvered their way through the backmarkers. Wolfe and Roger Crockett were running fourth and fifth respectively.
A caution with three laps to go found three lapped cars between Johnson’s mount and that of Olson. When the action resumed, Johnson cruised on to the feature win followed by Olson, Stewart, Wolfe and Brown.
Johnson’s car had suffered engine trouble last week. Since they pony up the cash for Roush/Yates engines, they don’t expect problems in that department. However, after further inspection, they found that the injector nozzles had been full of trash. Roush/Yates was off of the hook. Johnson gave most of the credit to his team. He said, “That’s what happens when you have good equipment.”
After becoming his own car owner, the restraints on Stewart’s extracurricular racing were obviously loosened. It has been reported that he will race 50 or more sprint-car races during the 2013 season. This is, of course, in addition to 32 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, a few NASCAR Nationwide Series races and a few other events. This should certainly make him the busiest racer in NASCAR.
Many of his fans would like to see one more race added to this schedule — the Indianapolis 500.
Clauson sweeps Copper on Dirt
For years, the Copper World Classic was run at Phoenix International Raceway. It featured United States Auto Club Silver Crown cars and midgets, in addition to another class or two that varied. When the PIR race was discontinued, Copper on Dirt was born and was contested at Manzanita Speedway on Phoenix’s south side. After a short run there, Manzanita was closed, and the event was moved north through Phoenix to Canyon Speedway Park.
This event is now a two-night program featuring USAC/CRA sprint cars and USAC Western midgets. None of these races paid the National series points that Hoosier racers covet. However, the California and Arizona drivers on hand put on a great show.
There were, of course, drivers such as Bryan Clauson, who came from the Midwest to keep the Western drivers honest. Clauson did just that, winning three of the four features.
Another Hoosier team showed up to fly their flag. Pete Willoughby and Keith Kunz showed up to get their 2013 drivers acclimated to their new midgets.
On March 1, Rico Abreu set quick time, while the rest of the Kunz cars placed. Kyle Larson was third, Tyler Thorson was sixth, Christopher Bell was 12th and Riley Emmel was 13th.
Clauson won the midget feature trailed by Larson, Ronnie Gardner, Bell and Abreu.
The Friday night sprint-car feature went to Clauson ahead of Nic Faas, Bud Kaeding, Damion Garder and Mike Spencer.
On March 2, Bell set quick time in the Kunz midget, while Abreu was second quick in another Kunz machine. The remaining Kunz midgets were 13th (Thorson), 14th (Emmel), and 21st (Larson).
Clauson won the midget feature followed by Abreu, Bell, R.J. Johnson, and Larson.
R.J. Johnson won the Saturday night sprint-car feature trailed by Faas, Clauson, Gardner and Ryan Beral.
Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.