The fourth race of the Camping World SRX Series wrapped up over the weekend in dramatic fashion: 23-year-old Ernie Francis Jr., a relative underdog in the series, captured a thrilling victory by beating NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bobby Labonte in a nail-biter finish. It was Francis’ first SRX win, and it moved him into second place in the SRX standings behind leader Tony Stewart.
“Man, I’m totally speechless, this is incredible,” Francis said after the race. “I ended up with a few donuts on the car, but man, couldn’t be happier with it, super incredible.”
The race took place at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. Francis held a steady lead through most of the race, but things got interesting toward the end, when several restarts gave competitors an opportunity to shake up the pecking order. Scott Speed, who led for the first 11 laps, made a run late in the race and ultimately finished third. Labonte and Francis dueled through the final two laps, and Francis edged him out by just .649 of a second.
It was an impressive win, especially since Labonte has decades of experience behind the wheel and firsthand knowledge of Lucas Oil Speedway. He raced there three times as a NASCAR driver, including a win in 1991.
Francis’ win snapped a two-race win streak for Tony Stewart (Stewart’s most recent win was at the dirt track at Eldora). Even so, Stewart didn’t seem to have any hard feelings, and said he was impressed with the young driver’s performance on Saturday.
“Ernie had a hell of a night,” he said. “That kid has learned so much in such a short amount of time. He’s been one of the most consistent guys out there and, literally from the first night of practice on, he’s gained time and gained speed and gotten better and better. There’s a reason he’s here. He deserves to be here.”
The racing action is only going to heat up as we enter the tail end of the SRX Series. The second-to-last event of the six-race series will take place on July 10 at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin, where Francis will have the chance to challenge Stewart for the series title.
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