TALLADEGA, AL (October 19) -- Though he would have rather been behind the wheel of a sprint car at the time, Shane Stewart's experience as Andy Hillenburg's crewman early this season was invaluable. When Junior Holbrook gave the ...
TALLADEGA, AL (October 19) -- Though he would have rather been behind the wheel of a sprint car at the time, Shane Stewart's experience as Andy Hillenburg's crewman early this season was invaluable.
When Junior Holbrook gave the 25-year-old driver from Bixby, OK, the opportunity to drive his #8H sprinter in May, the experience started paying off. He promptly led the World of Outlaws Gumout Series with seven feature victories. Stewart, who helped Hillenburg finish among the top seven in both races when the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series first invaded the Talladega Short Track in April, won the Preliminary Feature Friday when the series returned to the high-banked, 1/3-mile oval. Ironically, Hillenburg was six car-lengths behind when Stewart took the checkered flag. "I can't thank Andy (Hillenburg) and 'Diesel' (Keith Carlson) enough for all their help this year," Stewart said. "Andy's been like a father to me my whole life. I said when I got this ride that I didn't ever want to have to go back to just working on cars again." Stewart worked hard to become the fourth driver to win his first Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series feature race this season. After qualifying third-quick in the 32-car field and following Stevie Smith across the finish line in the Third O'Reilly Heat Race, Stewart passed Paul McMahan, Danny Lasoski, Hillenburg and Brad Furr to earn the front row outside starting position in the 30-lap feature. He passed Gumout Series champion Daryn Pittman for the lead late in the eighth lap on his way to claiming the $5,000 first prize. Smith drove his #19 Ingersoll-Rand Maxim into the lead as the green flag fell in the evening's main event. McMahan and Hillenburg exchanged fourth place during the first two laps. Stewart caught Smith low in turn two early in the fourth lap, but was unable to surge ahead. Smith, Stewart and Pittman raced three-abreast down the front straightaway the next time around before Pittman took the lead in the second corner. McMahan, who won his first Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series "A" Feature at State Fair Motor Speedway March 23rd, passed Smith for third place in the low groove between turns one and two as the leaders entered lapped traffic early in the seventh lap. Hillenburg drove his #2 Luxaire J&J past Smith on the back stretch, then passed McMahan high in the fourth corner. Stewart took the low line through turn four to pass Pittman for the lead the next time around. Hillenburg continued his run toward the front early in lap 10, passing Pittman deep in the second corner for the runner-up spot. Smith and Pittman exchanged third place three times during the next four laps. Smith passed Pittman high between turns three and four, only to have Daryn pass him deep in the fourth corner. Smith regained the position with an inside move into turn four late in lap 14. Tim Shaffer lost 10th place midway through the race when he crashed in the third corner, bringing out the caution flag and tightening the field. Lasoski, who broke the single-lap record Randy Hannagan set in April, raced into fifth place late in the 18th lap, driving NASCAR Winston Cup star Tony Stewart's #20L J.D. Byrider Eagle around McMahan high between turns three and four. Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series points leader Mark Kinser flipped in the third corner one lap later. Although "Mopar Mark" was uninjured in the crash, his 23rd-place finish allowed Lasoski to narrow the gap to 34 points in their battle for the series championship. Stewart controlled the ensuing restart and was two car-lengths ahead of Hillenburg when they entered lapped traffic with five laps remaining. Hillenburg caught Stewart in the low groove between turns one and two the next time around, but was unable to take the lead. Lasoski claimed the fourth and final automatic starting position in Saturday's Channellock Dash by passing Pittman for fourth place high in turn four late in lap 27. Stewart extended his advantage in lapped traffic during the final four laps and took the checkered flag with six car-lengths to spare. "I just kept telling myself to keep it cool and try to keep a good pace, but for a while there were cars everywhere, and I just went for it when I saw an opening," Stewart said. "Any time you win a World of Outlaws race you have to be on your toes. "We set some goals when I first got into this car. The first was to win five races -- and we did that -- and the second was to win an outlaw race -- and that just makes our year. I get to take it easy tomorrow, and the crew might even get to sleep in!" Smith finished in third place, ahead of "The Dude," Pittman, McMahan, Joey Saldana, Donny Schatz, 16th-starting Steve Kinser and Craig Dollansky. Brad Furr won the First O'Reilly Heat Race and followed Smith and Stewart across the finish line in the Channellock Dash. The Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year candidate lost the second row inside starting position in the feature, however, when the #2F Sanmina Eagle jumped out of gear just seconds before the green flag fell.