The World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Series’ first 2012 visit to Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, followed the script of what has been a wild first quarter of the season. Four-time WoO champion Donny Schatz led the Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) contingent in the two-night Outlaw Thunder presented by Goodyear, earning a runner-up finish Friday and sixth place Saturday. Steve Kinser finished third and eighth over the two nights, respectively, while Tony Stewart came home seventh Friday and 18th Saturday.
Getting to second and sixth was quite a task for Schatz in the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevrolet J&J. He opened the program by qualifying sixth in the field of 33 cars Friday and then placed third in the second heat. That finish earned him the 12th starting spot in the 30-lap A-Feature, and the Fargo, N.D., racer would battle just inside the top-10 for most of the race prior to a caution flag on lap 23. Schatz lined up eighth on the restart with seven laps to go and was able to avoid a Talladega-like melee that involved six of the top eight runners. After WoO and Eldora officials were able to clear the track, Schatz restarted second, but he wasn’t able to make a move on eventual winner Chad Kemenah. The runner-up finish was Schatz’s seventh top-five run this season and enabled him to take over the top spot in the WoO championship standings by one point ahead of Sammy Swindell.
The mountain for Schatz Saturday was a little steeper compared to where he began Friday night’s A-Feature. Engine troubles during qualifying and the fourth heat forced the STP crew to replace the motor between the heat and the 12-lap B-Feature. Schatz raced from eighth to third in the B-Feature to earn the 24th starting position in the 30-lap A-Feature. He was patiently working his way through the field but also took enough chances trying to earn a respectable finish. The race was slowed a couple of times with cautions during the final 10 laps, and he used the restarts to get into the top-10. One final yellow set up a green-white-checkered finish, and Schatz got a terrific restart moving from ninth up to fifth. He couldn’t hold off Daryn Pittman in the final corner, however, and was scored sixth for his 13th top-10 of the 2012 WoO campaign. Swindell led all 30 laps and jumped back ahead of Schatz in the standings. It marked the fifth time in the last five races the two have exchanged the top spot in the championship standings.
Kinser entered the weekend looking to not only end his 2012 winless streak, but also to add to the 41 career WoO wins he already has at Eldora. Things started well Friday when “The King of the Outlaws” qualified the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet Maxim third in the field. The 20-time WoO champion raced past Stevie Smith in heat three to gain a spot in the dash, where he finished second behind Jac Haudenschild. That finish put Kinser on the outside of the front row for the A-Feature. Kinser would follow Haudenschild for the first 20 laps, but gave up second position a few laps later when his left-rear tire exploded. The Bass Pro Shops crew replaced the tire and, when Kinser rejoined the field, he was on a mission. He worked his way back into the top-10 and was able to avoid the big crash on the lap-24 restart. Kinser would join Schatz on the podium by finishing third.
The second night of the Outlaw Thunder program didn’t begin as well for Kinser. He timed 15th in the field of 36 cars but was able to win heat three and earn a spot in the 10-car dash. The Bloomington, Ind., native picked up one spot in the dash and started the feature seventh. Kinser challenged to get inside the top-five early in the race, but the late restarts hurt his chances. He would finish eighth.
Stewart continued his education in WoO competition at Eldora Friday. The three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion arrived at the track just minutes before he was into the TSR No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1/Chevy J&J for hot laps. Stewart turned the 17th-best lap in qualifying and finished fifth to qualify for the A-Feature. He started 17th and was able to steer clear of the accidents in front of him. After the final caution, he restarted sixth and had a spirited battle with Swindell. The duo traded positions in each corner for two consecutive laps before Swindell eventually claimed the spot. Stewart would follow Swindell to the finish line and was credited with his first WoO top-10 of 2012.
Things started better for Stewart Saturday as he qualified ninth overall. He struggled in the opening heat, fading from second to sixth, but he dominated the B-Feature, winning by more than a straightaway, to make the final 24-car field. Like Friday, Stewart again made consistent laps and worked his way into the top-10. He was eighth on the final restart but the outside row didn’t take off and he was shuffled back to 18th.
With two more top-six finishes, Schatz continued his assault on the 2012 WoO championship standings. After briefly taking over the top spot following Friday’s race, he dropped back into second Saturday night and trails leader Swindell by 11 markers as the tour kicks off the annual May eastern swing. Kinser remains fourth, trailing Swindell by 64 points.
This week will include three races in Pennsylvania, beginning with The Gettysburg Clash at Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa., on Wednesday night. Races Friday and Saturday at historic Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa., will continue the six-race eastern tour.