The Sage Fruit Showdown at Talladega (Ala.) Short Track on Saturday night proved to be a showcase for Tony Stewart Racing’s (TSR) Steve Kinser, Donny Schatz and Tony Stewart. Each driver had his moment in the spotlight as the Outlaws returned to the 1/3-mile high-banked, clay oval for the first time since the spring of 2004. When the dust settled following the 35-lap A-Feature, Schatz had earned his ninth runner-up finish of the season, Kinser collected his 30th top-five, and Stewart showed why he is regarded as one of the most talented drivers in motorsports.
With a field of 28 cars on hand, the TSR contingent began the program with high expectations. Schatz, driver of the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevrolet J&J, was the eighth car to hit the track for qualifying and was the first driver to crack the 12-second barrier. Kinser was next on the clock and circled the track slightly faster in the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet Maxim. Stewart, the 21st competitor to make his qualifying laps, drove the TSR No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1/Chevrolet J&J to the eighth-best lap.
Kinser ended up second on the qualifying grid and finished third in the second heat. The finish earned the 20-time WoO champion the third starting position in the dash. After swapping the third spot several times with Lucas Wolfe in the eight-lap race, Kinser finished fourth. He started the 35-lap A-Feature outside of row two and battled inside the top-five throughout. Following a lap-18 restart, he climbed up to third behind Jason Meyers and David Gravel. During the final 15 laps, he had his hands full trying to hold his spot and he ended up finishing fifth.
Schatz qualified fourth overall and raced to a third-place finish in the opening heat. The four-time WoO champion started the dash on the pole and exchanged the lead with Meyers early on and then again following a restart with two laps remaining. In the feature, he started second and chased Meyers for the lead. A caution slowed the action and, on the ensuing restart, he dropped to fourth. Schatz was able to regain second with 10 laps remaining but wasn’t able to close the gap on Gravel, who earned his first career WoO A-Feature triumph.
Stewart enjoyed his return to World of Outlaws action. The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion dominated the second heat to earn a position in the eight-lap dash. He raced from seventh to fifth in the dash and started the 35-lap A-Feature in fifth. In the main event, he looked smooth and battled both Kinser and Schatz inside the top-five. He was trying to move into fourth with 25 laps complete when he nearly collided with Kraig Kinser. Stewart was able to avoid the contact but had to go over the edge of the track in order to do so. By the time he got back onto the track, he had dropped out of the top-10. He would resume his run during the final five laps and made his way back to 11th at the finish.
The top-five finishes by Schatz and Kinser tightened their battle for the runner-up position in the 2011 WoO championship standings. Schatz remains second, 264 points behind leader Meyers, while Kinser trails by 271 markers.
The 2011 WoO season will come to a close in North Carolina in two weeks when the TSR teams compete in the Lowes Foods World Finals presented by Tom’s Snacks, Coca-Cola and Natures Own. The three-night event opens Nov. 3 with two rounds of qualifying and will be followed by complete programs Friday and Saturday night. SPEED will air Saturday night’s action live beginning at 8 p.m. (EST).