MESQUITE, Texas – Oklahoma native Shane Stewart is looking forward to heading home this weekend — kind of.
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series is returning to historic Devil’s Bowl Speedway this Friday and Saturday — a track Stewart now considers home and has circled on his calendar.
The Mesquite, Texas track — where the inaugural World of Outlaws race was held in 1978 — is about four hours away from Stewart’s hometown of Bixby, Okla. With most tracks in Oklahoma either torn down, or a distant memory, Devil’s Bowl Speedway has become his surrogate hometrack. However, it’s more than just a hometrack.
“Devil’s Bowl has always been one of those bigger races on the schedule,” Stewart said. “Back when I was growing up, Devil’s Bowl, besides Knoxville, was always it for me. If you look at the drivers that have won there, especially Outlaw drivers, the list is pretty deep, with a lot of history there. It’s definitely a track that everybody wants to win at.”
He won at the track in 2016 and had a podium finish at the second race there last year. After an up and down early start to the season, Stewart’s hoping for similar results this year as he and his new CJB Motorsports team continue to learn each other.
Stewart started off the World of Outlaws season strong, finishing second on the opening night of racing at Volusia Speedway Park, but then finished 19th and 21st the next two races. Since then his results have been a mix of top-15 and top-10 finishes — placing him currently eighth in Series points.
“Our finishes haven’t really shown how we’ve been,” Stewart said. “I feel like we’ve been in contention to win three races, and I let one of them sneak away at Volusia, and we were leading the other night and had a flat at Stockton. When we Qualify in the right spot, put ourselves in the Dash, we’ve been in contention to win.”
He spent the past five years driving for Kyle Larson Racing, and while each team is unique with its own personality, Stewart said there’s been no difficulties adjusting to driving the No. 5 car with 2017 Crew Chief of the Year Barry Jackson.
“He (Shane) and I, we communicate real well, and relate real well,” Jackson said.
David Gravel, who moved over to Jason Johnson Racing this year, spent the last three years as Jackson’s driver, and while they found success winning more than 30 races and finishing third in points all three years together, Jackson said it’s easier to connect with Stewart.
“I think with Shane and I, we come from a little bit more similar background,” Jackson said, “We’re closer in age. It’s a little harder for the older guys to work with the real young guys, at least for me. And Shane and I have a lot of similarities, and we’re clicking pretty good in that department.”
What’s hindered the team this year is consistency with races, bad luck and the team’s engine program, Jackson said.
After 12 years of working with Kistler Engines, Jackson said, at USA Raceway, he made the difficult decision to switch to engines from Gray Motorsports — which races in the NHRA Pro Stock division.
“We kind of had some issues, kind of going on for about a year,” Jackson said about the team’s engine program. “It’s going to be a little bit of a learning experience for both them and myself. They’re great engine builders, but it’s like me going over there to try and work on a Pro Stock car or a Funny Car. It’s a whole different ball game.”
He made the decision to switch engine builders after the second race at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas — where Stewart finished 21st — after about 15 hours of talking over the decision with several people. However, Jackson said he’s not sure if the engine switch is his final decision, though. Stewart finished 10th at USA Raceway and 12th at Arizona Speedway last weekend.
But if there was a time to have a slow run in the season, Jackson said he wants it to be now.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to get the season rolling,” Jackson said. “I don’t feel like we’ve got a chance to do that yet with all of the rain outs. If I’m going to have a little bit of a slow time in the season, as far as performance, I want it to be now. Because whenever May rolls around and you start looking at the races we have in May and the races we have in June, July and August, that’s where I want to get on a roll. Hopefully we’re getting this stuff out of the way now and we’ll be set to roll real soon.”
Having run well at Devil’s Bowl Speedway previously, Stewart looks for the team chemistry and momentum to grow this weekend.
“Going to different race tracks and putting yourself in different situations, knowing how to communicate with each other is one of the things that we continue to work on,” Stewart said. “I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”