Tony Stewart speaks for first time since getting injured

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For the first time since his sprint car accident that injured his right leg, Tony Stewart has broken his silence.

Oprah, having “at least one hot nurse,” weight loss, the media, sprint car safety, Kurt Busch’s new fourth team and his own recovery were all topics of conversation.

“Oddly enough I miss you guys, which tells me I’m not feeling good,” Stewart told reporters at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in Kannapolis, N.C. to open the press conference.

Since his accident in Iowa several weeks ago, Stewart has been largely bed-ridden, watching in his words, “Oprah and way too much other TV” and beginning the recovery process after his pair of surgeries.

The first bit of news: Stewart hopes to be back in a race car by early February, ahead of the 2014 Daytona 500, but ideally after testing.

“Early February. That’s what they’re looking at,” Stewart said. “It’s something that’s part of this process. We do not want to do something too early. Have to try to guard against setbacks. It’s going according to schedule.

Asked later whether interim driver Mark Martin could stay on to test if Stewart isn’t ready in January, Stewart replied: “I’m all for Mark doing all the testing he wants to do! It’s like watching paint dry. If that scenario happens I hope he’d be willing to do that. You couldn’t ask for someone better. He’d pay more attention than I would.”

Stewart said almost from the off that you can’t be afraid to miss out on other opportunities; in his case, the sprint car racing he so loves to do on weekends he’s not at a NASCAR track.

“Bobby Labonte was riding his bike and missed a race. It’s just life, guys. People miss a race. You’ve gotta live life. You can’t spend your whole life guarding against something that could happen. We’re all here a short amount of time in the big picture. We don’t want to guard against this, or that. If I didn’t wear a helmet or seatbelts, then that would be dangerous.”

The biggest news from a team standpoint since Stewart’s injuries, other than his injury replacements (Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin), has been the addition of Kurt Busch in a fourth Stewart-Haas entry for 2014.

Stewart scoffed at the suggestion that he or the team “deceived” Ryan Newman – as had been suggested by former driver Kyle Petty – and said his only concern throughout the process was the time needed to put together the crew and equipment needed for a fourth car.

“It wasn’t as dramatic as (Gene) made it sound,” Stewart said. “When Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, then Thursday they had a contract ready. The biggest thing was Greg Zipadelli saying we could do this and getting it done in a time frame. To find someone like Kurt and make it happen has really been encouraging to me as his partner. It was just me getting caught up. I wanted to make sure we had the time. We have a lot to get done in a short amount of time. It may not be fun and may not be easy. That was what made me give 100 percent blessing. We never argued about it.”

One other thing Stewart let slip in the press conference was the unintentional confirmation of Rodney Childers as Kevin Harvick’s crew chief for 2014. Harvick joins Stewart-Haas as Newman’s replacement in the renumbered No. 4 Chevrolet.

“Welcome to, ‘Tony doesn’t remember protocol’” Stewart joked to the team’s PR manager.

Besides addressing the on-track items and his injury recovery process, Stewart was back to cracking jokes as the press conference continued. The following was his response when asked the one thing he missed at the tracks.

“The hot girls, no doubt,” he said. “When you’re laying in bed, there’s not much traffic. You know I thought that with three Cup championships, an IndyCar championship, a USAC Triple Crown, that I could surely get one hot nurse, and instead I got Eddie Jarvis to take care of me.”

There were other sidebars to the press conference – more on the fourth team, and more on sprint car safety – that Stewart addressed. We’ll hit those in separate posts.

Toro Rosso extends contract for technical director James Key

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Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key will continue with the team for the foreseeable future, following a contract extension announced on Tuesday.

Key joined the team in 2012 and has seen the Faenza-based squad solidify its role in the upper midfield, with occasional surprise finishes that have pushed the team near the top three or four teams on the grid.

“I am delighted to continue with Toro Rosso and remain part of the Red Bull family,” he said. “This is a team which I have great respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed working with for the past 5 years; now I look forwards to continuing our project into the future.

“STR is unique, facing the challenges of being spread over two countries and fulfilling the roles of both a team in its own right and an important part of the Red Bull driver program: they are challenges that the team takes in its stride and, whilst doing so, continues to grow and improve year on year.

“Most importantly, the people I have had the pleasure to work with at STR are second to none: professional, ambitious and focussed, they have all worked incredibly hard to improve the team’s performance and will continue that hard work with the same dedication and optimism in the coming years too. I would like to thank Franz Tost and Red Bull for their continued support and confidence. We have more work to do, and I look forwards to taking the next steps with Toro Rosso towards our goals.”

Team principal Franz Tost added, Formula 1 is a team sport, but one in which an individual can still make a difference. So far, in his time with us, James has proved that he can indeed make that difference, leading the technical side of the operation.

“Not only has he been adept at producing chassis-aero packages that are well regarded throughout the paddock, he has also shown the management skills necessary to get the most out of all the various departments that work together both here in Faenza and in Bicester. I am therefore delighted that James will be with us for the foreseeable future to continue this fruitful process.”

Teams load up on supersoft tires for Italian GP

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There’s almost no variety in team Pirelli tire selections for the Italian Grand Prix, with nearly all teams going with two sets of softs and 10 sets of supersofts for next week’s race. All teams have selected just one set of mediums.

The only variance comes with Mercedes, Force India and Haas going with three sets of softs and nine supersofts. The rest are all the same choice, two softs and 10 supersofts.

Monza comes a week after Spa this week.

Pirelli’s tire breakdown is below.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee to serve as Gateway grand marshal

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline will feature quite an excellent grand marshal, in the form of three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The full release from the track is below.

An Olympic champion has been selected to give the command to start engines for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline comes to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois on August 26. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, will serve as the grand marshal for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

“I am humble,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. “I do not take this honor for granted to be the INDYCAR race’s grand marshal at Gateway Motorsports Park. Very few people are asked to give the command and I am grateful to be one of the few. Thank you!”

Track-and-field star Joyner-Kersee has won three Olympic gold medals, as well as one silver and two bronze. She was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships for consecutive years and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. During her junior year, she set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. In 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon — an Olympic track-and-field competition comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.

Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively, and is currently the heptathlon world record-holder.
Following her retirement from competition, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to instill youth in the a Greater East St. Louis area with the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. “Winners In Life.”

Chuck Wallis, Vice President of the Bommarito Automotive Group, will serve as honorary starter and will wave the opening green flag.

Kimi Raikkonen confirmed at Ferrari for 2018 F1 season

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Scuderia Ferrari has confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen will remain with the team for the 2018 Formula 1 season after being given a new one-year contract.

Raikkonen, 37, has raced with Ferrari since 2014, and has been on a one-year rolling contract since the end of 2015.

The Finn has been a regular focus for the F1 driver market’s ‘silly season’ given his age and struggle for form compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel, who currently leads the drivers’ championship.

Raikkonen has scored 86 less points than Vettel through the opening 11 races of the 2017 season, but has nevertheless done enough to secure a new contract, confirmed by Ferrari on Tuesday.

“Ferrari announces that Scuderia Ferrari has renewed its technical and racing agreement with Kimi Raikkonen,” a brief statement from Ferrari reads.

“The Finnish driver will therefore race for the Maranello team in the 2018 Formula One World Championship.”

Raikkonen is the first of the big-name free agents to have his plans for 2018 confirmed, with Vettel, ex-Ferrari racer Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas yet to announce a drive for next year.

Raikkonen first joined Ferrari in 2007, winning the F1 drivers’ championship in his first season, but left at the end of 2009 to take some time out from the sport.

A return in 2012 with Lotus saw Raikkonen display plenty of his old spark, taking two wins for the financially-hamstrung team before leaving at the end of 2013 over a pay row.

Raikkonen moved back to Ferrari for 2014 alongside Fernando Alonso, with Vettel arriving the following year.

Questions over Raikkonen’s motivation and ability have been rife for some time, but without any outstanding candidates for a seat available as things stand, the news is not overly surprising.

Nevertheless, it does defuse some of the silliness of ‘silly season’, with Vettel’s confirmation at Ferrari seemingly set to follow.