By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
The Indiana native qualified second following a great first run on Friday with a pass of 5.219 seconds and 276.52 mph, putting him second on the board. He then raced on Saturday and won in the first round, including the quarterfinals, which prompted him to the semis on Sunday.
In the semi-finals on Sunday afternoon, Stewart was again a winner with a pass of 5.243 at 274.78 mph over Chris Demke’s 5.347 and 272.39 mph. With the semi-final victory, Stewart was excited about being in the finals for the first time in his career.
“Well, at least we’re in the finals, so we’re at least in a position to do it (win),” said an excited Stewart. “I just have to keep doing my job and this McPhillips team, they’re just awesome. They’re so much fun to race with and we’ve got a fast racecar. We’re all doing our part and we’re all doing it as a team, and I’ve had more fun this weekend than I’ve had in a long time, definitely anywhere that has fenders on it. I’m loving this sport.”
Stewart’s team owner for the weekend, Rich McPhillips, also agreed with Stewart.
“We were having a blast,” McPhillips said about Stewart’s success up to that point. “Tony (Stewart) is unbelievable to deal with. He is as relaxed as anybody I’ve ever seen and he’s more focused than anybody I’ve ever seen, too, including me. It’s just so fun to be around him. The whole atmosphere is positive and we’re having a blast!”
Eventually, Stewart would face current college student Madison Payne for his first-ever final-round match.
In the finals, Payne was quicker off the line first than Stewart with a reaction time of .061 to Stewart’s .065. The two stayed side-by-side down the track in what would be a close race. Unfortunately for Stewart, he fell 0.0002 seconds short of the victory as Payne would go on to win secure her first-ever career victory in a Top Alcohol dragster. Payne had an E.T. of 5.262 at 275.90 mph over Stewart’s 5.258 seconds and 271.57 mph.
Payne, a third-generation drag racer, said she wasn’t nervous about lining up against Stewart. She knew she had a shot and after besting him at the bottom of the track, she said she was just glad to have her own hardware to take home since all of the Wallys in her home have someone else’s name on them.
Despite smoking the tires in Friday night’s qualifying session, it would be hard to say that Tony Stewart’s first attempt in an NHRA Top Alcohol dragster was anything but a successful one.