Jason Setser had just driven his car to back-to-back wins in his three-quarter midget, but Wednesday night, he gave up his ride.
Tony Stewart hopped in Setser’s ride and piloted it to another dominating performance. The three-time NASCAR Cup champion won the Quick Qualifier, the first heat race and the main feature in the King of UMRA TQ Midgets race at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds.
“There was no pressure, so at least I got Quick Time, and at least I won my heat race and the main, so hopefully, I won’t get fired after tonight,” Stewart joked.
While most of the approximately 2,000 fans headed for the exits to beat an incoming storm, about 150 lined up along the track fence to take photos of and hear an interview with Stewart.
Stewart, who retired from the NASCAR Cup circuit following last season, was competing at the fairgrounds for the first time since 2013.
“It’s a big deal to us,” Stewart said.
“This is something I’ve been looking forward to. We were building a car, and it just didn’t get done in time, so Jason Setser let me drive his car tonight and have some fun. We’re getting a chance to race in front of people that don’t get a chance to come out and see us very much.”
In TQ’s inverted system, Stewart had to start sixth in the 20-lap main feature, despite having the fastest qualifying lap of 16.960 seconds. Following two cautions that led to restarts, he climbed to fourth after one lap and third after three laps.
Stewart was still in third place behind Nick Speidel and Rick Robinson when a caution came out after seven laps. He climbed past Robinson into second and was there under cautions after laps 8 and 12.
On the 15th lap, Stewart passed Speidel on the backstretch, but Speidel returned the favor the next lap. Stewart again passed Speidel on the 17th lap, and then Speidel ran into trouble on the first turn of the 18th lap, leading to another caution.
Stewart was able to hold on over the final three laps to take the checkered flag.
“It’s a real big honor to have Tony driving ‘The Cure Stars Now’ car,” Setser said. “Me and Tony have been good friends for a long time. We’ve known each other since we were kids, and I mentioned to him a good while back about driving this, and he wanted to do it. So it’s a real cool deal.”
Stewart had two cars in the field, and they were driven by the top two drivers in the King of UMRA TQ Midgets point standings. Callie Wolsiffer, who led Ron Combs by five points going into the night, got caught up in an accident in the first lap that led to one of the restarts and finished back in the back.
Combs finished fourth in the main feature.
“With us running first and second in points, Tony had to go find another ride,” Combs said. “He wasn’t going to boot one of us out. We’re in it for the championship right now.”
Prior to the race, a few fans gathered in the pits to catch a glimpse of Stewart. Bryan Brewer, 12, who will be seventh-grader at Brownstown Middle School, was there with his father, J.L. Brewer.
The younger Brewer, who races quarter-midgets, got to see Stewart for the first time.
“I’m shocked,” he said. “I’ve never seen him in person.”
Kris Hendrickson of Shelbyville carried his 3-year old son Kacen on his shoulders. After the race in Columbus was rained out Tuesday, they decided to make the trip on Wednesday.
The Hendricksons brought a die-cast model of Stewart’s car for him to sign.
“It’s a late birthday present,” Kris Hendrickson said.