Auto racing insider

Tony Stewart has won races and championships in USAC, the Indy Racing League and in NASCAR’s elite Sprint Cup Series, but when his career is over, one of his greatest legacies may be what he did for dirt.

Stewart, who races on dirt almost as much as he races on pavement, was the driving force behind NASCAR’s return to a dirt track for the first time since 1970. Wednesday’s Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway in Ohio, a track Stewart owns, was one of the most hyped NASCAR races of the season, and by most accounts the Camping World Truck Series event lived up to the prerace billing.

The race played out before a sold-out grandstand and on TV for millions. Among those on hand to see the race in person was NASCAR president Mike Helton, who said in a prerace interview on the Speed network that he didn’t come to the race just to fulfill some official duties.

“I’m here more as a fan than anything because I wanted to see this race,” said Helton, who dabbled in dirt racing as a driver on the short tracks around Atlanta before going to work for NASCAR. “I compliment Tony (Stewart) on keeping Eldora, this facility, going, elevating it, and doing what he’s done in giving us the opportunity to bring the Truck Series here tonight.”

Even the preliminary events provided historic and compelling moments. Ken Schrader, who like Stewart runs as many races on dirt as he does on asphalt, won the pole and the first heat race in his own truck, becoming NASCAR’s oldest pole winner at 58.

Then in the last-chance race, 61-year-old Norm Benning, one of the sport’s last journeyman independent drivers, drew cheers from fans and his fellow drivers as he prevailed in a fender-banging duel with Clay Greenfield to secure the final starting spot in the 150-lap main event.

In the main event, Austin Dillon, who started 19th, took the victory, holding off the hard-charging Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman in a green-white-checkered-flag run to the finish.

Afterward, Newman and others were calling for more NASCAR races on dirt.

Helton said before the race that it’s a possibility.

“What the future holds? We’ll see,” Helton said. “But I know tonight is something everybody is going to check off and say that was a historic moment.”

Race with meaning: For defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, few races mean as much as this weekend's 400-miler at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For starters, Keselowski grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., in a part of the country where the events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are like hometown news. Then there’s the Indy connections of his car owner, Roger Penske, who has a record 15 Indy 500 wins as a car owner, but none in Sprint Cup races at the Brickyard.

“You look at everything Mr. Penske has been able to accomplish there in open-wheel racing,” he said. “It would be one of the coolest things I could ever do in a race car if I could get him his first win in the Brickyard 400. It would rank right up there with giving him his first Sprint Cup Series title.”

Rallycross coming to AMS: Scott Speed, whose resume includes races in circuits including Formula One and NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, was in town this week to promote his appearance in another form of motorsports — Global Rallycross.

Speed is among the drivers expected to compete in the inaugural Sylvania Silverstar zXe Global Rallycross Atlanta on Aug. 10 on a makeshift course at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The race will be run in segments much like a typical short-track race, but will also have elements of motorcross racing as the course will include sections of dirt, asphalt, gravel, water and ramp jumps.

“For the cars to be able to do what they do, jump and accelerate, it’s pretty impressive to see on just on its own right,” Speed told reporters during an appearance in Atlanta on Wednesday. “Then, if you add in the type of racers we have in the series and the format with it being a sprint race and such a shootout, it breeds a lot of unknown. It is extremely exciting.”

Speed, who has run nine Sprint Cup races this year in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford, has a best finish of ninth at Talladega. But he won in his first start in a Rallycross car, at the X-Games in Brazil.

“I still have lots to learn about the series and those cars,” he said. “But it is certainly something that was a natural fit.”