BROWNSBURG, Ind. – Dennis Steward captured his first INDY win at the 64th Annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals held over Labor Day weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. Steward, Port Orange, Fla., drove his beautiful FGT/L ’64 Plymouth Savoy to victory when Crosby, Tex. racer Dale Hulquist fouled by -.003 in the final in his GT/MA Pontiac Grand Am. The win was Steward’s second in national event competition.
Steward worked his way through the 128-car field with a string of superb reaction times combined with a consistent racecar. He was hit or miss at the tree as he drilled the tree with consistency in all but two rounds averaging a .010 light in five of his seven round wins. Although he was wired to the tree most of the weekend, Steward missed big time in round 2 posting a .148 reaction and in the final round where he posted a .203 reaction.
Through seven rounds of competition, Steward crossed the finish line first only twice as three of his opponents beat him to the stripe, breaking out in the process, and two other opponents red-lighted.
Steward’s closest race of the weekend came in round 1 when he won by .019-second over Jim Schaechter. Steward converted a .019 to .041 starting line advantage into the win after slowing .02 to take .019 stripe in posting a .012 over 9.902. Schaechter posted a dead on 9.949 in the losing effort.
Steward was fortunate to make it out of round 2 after he posted a .148 reaction time. Opponent Mike Town left with a .120 reaction time advantage but took a train-length at the finish line, about 30 feet, to post an all-out -.036 under 10.614 to hand the win to Steward’s all-out 9.914 on his 9.90 dial.
Steward found redemption at the tree in round 3 as he posted a stellar .003 light to take a huge holeshot over Gary Coccaro’s .058 light. While Steward missed the dial by .03-second, he took the easy win after Coccaro ran .082 over giving Steward the win with his slowing .046 over 9.956.
With a tough round 4 matchup with former U.S. Nationals winner Larry Hodge, Steward posted his best package of the race after laying down .021 total to take the breakout win. Steward’s .013 light and all-out 9.938 on his 9.93 dial, left almost nothing for Hodge who posted a .014 light along with an all-out 10.652 on his 10.66 dial. Hodge took .015 stripe but needed to take .007 or less.
With a trip to the semifinals on the line for the winner of round 5 on Sunday evening, Steward posted another superb .013 reaction time to move past a red-lighting Venice Perno. Perno missed the tree by -.015 but Steward would have been a tough out as he was on another dead on pass had he not lifted early.
In the Monday afternoon semifinal pairing, Steward met up with defending Factory Stock Showdown national champ David Barton. For the fourth consecutive round Steward drilled the tree, this time leaving with a .003 light, in taking a .054 starting line advantage over Barton. But as they moved down track, Steward’s Savoy slowed and could only post an all-out .057 over 9.987. Although Barton missed the tree, he still had a chance to make the final but failed to tighten up the stripe. Barton killed a couple to take .045 and post a -.042 under 9.108 in the loss.
In the final, Steward paired against Texas racer Dale Hulquist. Hulquist, much like Steward, had been hit or miss on the tree. When he was good, he was great as evidenced by his .010, .005, and .000 reaction times but he also missed the tree in three rounds posting .050, .057, and .062 lights. Hulquist’s Grand Am was glued to his dial-in throughout eliminations which helped him reach the finals after taking wins over Don O’Malley, J. Allen Sherman, Brett Candies, Terry Emmons, Jeff Gillman, and Jeff Myers.
After posting a perfect .000 reaction in his semifinal win, Hulquist just missed the tree in the final leaving -.003 too soon. Hulquist’s red-light handed the win to Steward who posted the aforementioned .203 reaction. Hulquist went on to post a dead on 10.307 but could only wonder what if after seeing his time slip.
Steward’s car could have had an issue in the final round as it lost .06 in 60ft in the semi’s and was a tenth slow in 60ft in the final round. Either way, Dennis Steward is your 2018 U.S. Nationals Super Stock winner and that’s all that matters. What a great win for Steward and his beautiful Plymouth.
Congratulations Dennis on your second national event win and your first INDY Wally.