Dirt Track Racing World of Outlaws

Shane Stewart has the toughest job in sprint car racing

There's four (former or present) NASCAR driver owned World of Outlaws teams, and none of them, other than Kyle Larson, could win any given night on the tour.

There’s four (former or present) NASCAR driver owned World of Outlaws teams, and none of them, other than Kyle Larson, could win any given night on the tour.

It’s gotta be tough when every time your boss shows up they challenge your very existence at what you do everyday as a professional. To have them do it for “fun” and hop into what you’ve been driving seriously for a living and either beat you or give you a helluva push to do better.

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Shane Stewart looking onward at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Missouri this past weekend. Photo credit: TeeJay Crawford

That’s what Kyle Larson appears to do to Shane Stewart every time he steps onto the dirt track with his team’s driver. Larson, the majority of the time has finished in front of Stewart when racing him over the past couple years, including this past February at two All Star races when the duo last raced together at Volusia Speedway.

At one point in 2017, Shane Stewart had two wins in a hot and cold season thus far, when Kyle Larson hopped into a then failing Stenhouse, Jr./Wood car on a whim and won his first time out. Stewart quickly responded to his boss’ ease of dominance with two more wins by the end of that month, and four more the rest of the year as he hit a hot streak with new crew chief, Lee Stauffer.

Larson rips around the competition and wins a World of Outlaws race at Eagle Nationals in Nebraska last summer. It was during his red hot crusade in a sprint car towards his way to a near Knoxville Nationals triumph.

While Kyle Larson was competing for a NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Championship in his day job, on the side he was dominating Pennsylvania Speedweek and won more than half the Sprint Car races he competed in last year. On the #OpenRed Podcast, Dave Blaney, a former NASCAR driver and World of Outlaws champion, called Kyle Larson “the best sprint car driver he’d ever seen (with apologies to Doug Wolfgang).”

Tony Stewart has maybe won a few races in the World of Outlaws, but that didn’t start until 2011, on his way out of NASCAR and into retirement racing – where he now looks nowhere near the shape to win another World of Outlaws race anytime soon. Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. have never won a race with the World of Outlaws.

Kyle Larson is not only the winningest World of Outlaws car owner as a driver (5) from those stables, he is also in the prime of his racing career, and has the potential of beating anyone any given night, including the driver he pays the bills for. Pressure much?

Add the fact that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Kyle Larson’s friend and peer in NASCAR, has Sheldon Haudenschild out there winning races for him and sitting 2nd in WoO points… you don’t think Shane feels pressure to match that friendly competition? I bet so.

I can tell Kyle Larson is a tough team owner. He expects to win. When I saw they hired Lee Stauffer I knew some good old-fashioned ass kicking talk was coming into play. Stauffer is for all intents and purposes a true racer’s crew chief.

At 15 years old (2002-2003) I was nearby York, Pennsylvania for a Hyper Racing seminar for my mini-sprint. I always wanted to get in a “full-sized” sprint car and I told my dad, ‘Hey, I think Lee Stauffer lives nearby in York, I’m going to try and look him up.’ Being the kid I was, I looked him up in the white pages, gave him a ring, and sure enough he answered, ‘yeah sure, swing on by.’ And we did…

It was the shop of the famous #12 Apple Chevrolet. The shop was actually his grandmother’s garage behind her house. You could spot the hauler from the road, and sure enough there he was working away. He had two cars sitting at different levels of completion.

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“We usually have a few cars ready to go, but Greg [Hodnett] keeps wrecking the damn things,” Stauffer remarked to us as we asked questions about them. At least to the best of my memory. The major things I walked away from that day when talking to him as a red faced kid was, “forget sprint car racing, become a rock star,” “every driver thinks they need a new engine in it if isn’t running right (especially – somewhat jokingly – Greg Hodnett – he mentioned Greg a lot as he was driving the car at the time, in dominant fashion mind you),” and “some drivers wear the brakes out, others keep ’em ice cold… all depends on the driver.”

That was about what I remember from it, and I’d love for Lee to correct me on any of this, and hopefully we get him on the podcast. Beyond those points, I could also tell this guy was steeped in sprint car racing history, was brash and honest, funny, and gave a real shit about winning. Incredibly loyal to his driver, but not afraid to tell them like it is.

There’s Tony Stewart and Ricky Warner, now Ricky Stenhouse, Jr./Richard Marshall and Tyler Swank, but Kyle Larson and Lee Stauffer may be the toughest/best guys to drive for as a team owner-crew chief duo. I can safely say, they don’t do losing too well, and you have to wonder as they enter this next weekend and the rest of the year…

Is the KLR World of Outlaws #2 ride in jeopardy for Shane Stewart in 2019 if we don’t see a super strong season packed full of wins?

It’s one thing to have a tough car owner, but it’s another thing to have a car owner who can win in what you do any given night.

Share your thoughts below.

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