Du QUOIN --NASCAR driver Tony Stewart returned to his short-track roots last Saturday,winning the feature in the third annual Battle at the Center on the one-sixth mile indoor Mini Magic Mile at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin.
The 41-year-old from Columbus, Ind., led all 40 laps in the non-points event organized and sanctioned by the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series.
It had 67 entries and brought together many of the best drivers in Midget racing and several more major short-track series
Andrew Felker, of Carl Junction, Mo., this season's POWRi National Midget champion, finished second and POWRi veteran Tim Siner from Dupo was third.
Stewart won USAC Midget championships in 1994 and 1995 and was USAC's Triple Crown (also taking the national Sprint Car and Silver Crown) champion in 1995 before moving on to win the IZOD IndyCar title in 1997 and NASCAR Sprint Cup championships in 2002, 2005 and 2011.
"It was a lot of fun," Stewart said. "I was happy with it. We heard this was a good event last year and decided to run it to get ready for the Chili Bowl (run in Tulsa, Okla., Jan. 8-12).
"We didn't run very good in the Chili Bowl last year. We built the car to the same design that I drove in John Godfrey's Stealth in 1995."
Stewart also won his heat and qualifying races and started on the outside of the front row next to Bryan Clauson, the three-time National Midget Driver of the Year and the USAC National champion the past three years.
Stewart's Chevrolet-powered Midget, took the lead at the start and held it against Clauson through seven restarts.
"The only time I got concerned was on the restarts with Clauson," Stewart said. "They don't get any tougher than Clauson. He could get close coming on the inside, but after two or three laps, we were all right."
Clauson, of Noblesville, Ind., ran second until contact from behind by Brad Loyet, of Sunset Hills, Mo., on a 34th lap restart spun him in Turn Two.
"I tried to beat Tony to the center of the track and got over the cushion," Clauson said.