Tuesday, June 22, 2021

SRX: Paul Tracy’s rough night ends early in Knoxville


by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer

Paul Tracy picked up the first last-place finish of his Superstar Racing Experience career at the Knoxville Raceway when his #13 Professional Bull Riders / World Championship Rodeo Alliance machine fell out with overheating problems after completing 5 of the feature’s 50 laps.

Across series history, it was the first for the #13 and the first for crew chief Todd Parrott.

A staple of CART in the 1990s and post-split early 2000s, Tracy drove his last full racing season in 2007 but has continued to dabble in various forms of motorsport since then, including Grand-Am sports cars and Stadium Super Trucks. Additionally, Tracy has been a color commentator for NBC’s IndyCar coverage. He took a reduced role with the broadcaster in 2021, allowing him to participate full-time in the Superstar Racing Experience.

Three driver storylines headlined the Knoxville event. The "local hero" car - driven by 410 sprint car racer Brian Brown - came loaded with expectations. Not only did Doug Coby win in the local hero car last week, but Brown is also announced to drive the Knoxville race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, making the SRX seat time all the more valuable for a driver who had never raced a vehicle with fenders before Saturday. In the "ringer" car was one of dirt racing’s best personalities, Scott Bloomquist. The dirt late model legend entered with a leg up on most of the field, as he did participate in NASCAR’s inaugural Eldora event, giving him some sought-after seat time in stock cars on dirt. The third story was Hailie Deegan, subbing for Tony Kanaan. Deegan entered the event with a wealth of dirt experience and a win on dirt in a stock car, coming in the K&N Pro Series West in 2019. All three looked to be legitimate threats to win going in to the event.

Bloomquist, by luck of the draw, rolled off last on the grid for the beginning of Heat 1. He trailed the field for the first couple of laps, but passed Willy T. Ribbs by the two-minute mark of the event to put Ribbs’ blue Fram Filters machine at the tail end of the field. Despite a mid-heat caution for Paul Tracy rubbing the wall, Ribbs stayed in 12th until the final front straightaway, when Michael Waltrip checked up and spun off the bumper of Brown. Waltrip kept it off the wall and finished the heat, albeit ten seconds later than the rest of the field.

With the full-field invert for the beginning of Heat 2, Tony Stewart looked set to roll off from the final position. However, late-breaking news from pit road indicated that an adjustment to the event format this week left the possibility for drivers to make adjustments to their cars in between heats at the expense of their starting position in Heat 2. Ribbs gave up the second starting position to make adjustments to his car and inherited the final starting position behind the other two cars that pitted, Bill Elliott and Ernie Francis Jr. The adjustments must have helped, as Ribbs passed Bobby Labonte around the three-minute mark for 11th. Labonte returned the favor at around the six-minute mark of the heat, but Ribbs dropped Marco Andretti to last with about a minute to go. As Andretti looked three-wide under Ribbs and Labonte for tenth place with 30 seconds to go, Tracy, who had already also got into the wall on a restart, spun into the outside wall and made significant contact. On the ensuing green-white-checkered restart, Tracy looped it again and finished out of contention in last place.

In an interview with Matt Yocum in between the heat and the feature, Tracy went off on Waltrip, claiming that this was the second week in a row that he had been wrecked by the driver of the 15 car (CBS’ cameras missed the beginning of Tracy’s spins in Heat 2 this week) and told Yocum that Waltrip had one coming at some point in the series.

Another change the series made for its second race weekend was that instead of the finishing order of Heat 2 becoming the starting order, drivers’ average finishing position in the heat races would be the order of the starting lineup for the feature. Ribbs, who finished 11th in both heats, rolled off last with Tracy to his inside in Row 6.

The two remained side-by-side through lap one, with Ribbs maintaining in the last spot through the first caution, five laps in. Tracy pulled in to the pits during that caution and quickly exited the car, giving an interview to Yocum under the Lap 8 caution. While the audio didn’t cut in until midway through, the split-screen cameras went to Waltrip’s car on track, indicating that Tracy was again voicing his displeasure before explaining that he called it quits after overheating to avoid blowing an engine.

The Bottom Three was filled by Bill Elliott, eleven laps in arrears due to another mechanical issue, and Ribbs, the last car on the lead lap.

After last week’s feature was published, SRX announced that paint schemes will remain constant with drivers throughout the season. As such, LASTCAR’s paint scheme rankings have been discontinued.


12) #13-Paul Tracy / 5 laps / overheating
11) #9-Bill Elliott / 89 laps / running
10) #17-Willy T. Ribbs / 100 laps / running

1st) Mike Christopher, Todd Parrott (1)


No comments: