(CBS Local)- We're already at the halfway point of the Camping World SRX Racing Series' inaugural season and the racing is starting to tighten up. Tony Stewart took the win for the second race in a row in the dirt but led just six laps, all in the late stages of the race. Analyst Brad Daugherty has been impressed by the competition and particularly the way that some of the IndyCar drivers have adapted.
"I think it's just been absolutely phenomenal. Ray Evernham's ability to kind of orchestrate what happens and how he manipulates the race cars throughout the racing has been just spot on. The competition has been at a high level," Daugherty said. "I'm absolutely amazed at the IndyCar guys that have come over, in particular a guy like Helio Castroneves. These guys have never even been on an asphalt race track half mile or smaller or been on dirt period. And they have picked it up and are contending."
Week in and week out, tweaks to what adjustments drivers are allowed to make to their cars have come from Evernham and it's made figuring out those adjustments and the right time to make them one of the key things that drivers have been talking to Daugherty about.
"The thing that is pretty consistent is how difficult it is to make the right adjustment at the right time on that race car. No one has an advantage which is interesting. So when someone stumbles on a little bit of something, it's usually a big deal. That's been pretty fun to watch," Daugherty said.
After two weeks in the dirt, the series now returns to the pavement with a trip to Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. With that trip, Daugherty sees the opportunity for Castroneves and Kanaan among others to push for the top of the podium. He says that fans should expect another tight race similar to what they saw last week.
"I'm really impressed with Helio. Obviously the guy is world class there's no doubt about it but I'm really blown away by his overall ability. I just didn't see that, I really didn't. The thing I saw at Eldora that really got my attention was how fast Tony Kanaan was. He was really, really fast," Daugherty said. "I think when we go back this weekend, you're going to see a guy like Bobby Labonte who's been really good at Indy throughout his career, I think this will be a good opportunity for Bobby. I think you'll see Ernie Francis Jr. run really, really well. I think this field is going to tighten up."
Speaking of Francis Jr., Daugherty mentioned him in particular as a young driver with a wealth of talent at his disposal. Francis Jr. has finished 6th, 3rd, and 8th respectively in the first three races but has shown the ability to push some of the best to ever get behind the wheel.
"This kid needs to be in some type of legitimate world-class opportunity because he has that type of talent," Daugherty said.
The 23-year-old hasn't been the only driver to prove he belongs with the series' big names. Each week's local hero has impressed beginning with Doug Coby winning at Stafford and going through last week with Kody Swanson finishing second. This week, the opportunity falls to Bobby Santos III a four-time winner of the A.J. Foyt Championship (2006, 2011, 2017 and 2020), which is awarded to the driver with the season-best points tally at Lucas Oil Raceway in USAC's top-three series – Silver Crown, Sprint Car and Midget.
Santos III told reporters this week he's been following the series just like viewers at home and he's thrilled to get the chance to show what he's got this weekend.
"I'm just excited for the opportunity. I've enjoyed following it on TV every chance I get and it's just an honor to race with them," Santos III said. "I have had a lot of success at IRP and it's treated me well. I guess I have that little bit of advantage. But, these cars will be foreign to me as well. Just looking forward to the opportunity and to be involved in something really neat like this series."
The Camping World SRX Series at Lucas Oil Raceway begins at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS Television Network and streaming live on Paramount+.
for more features.