Panic not setting in for Tony Stewart despite slow start

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A poor car sent Tony Stewart to a 33rd place finish last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which continued his problematic comeback from a broken leg that ended his 2013 season last summer.

The three-time Sprint Cup champion appears to be up against it again this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway after qualifying 37th – the worst out of the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing camp.

But while SHR struggles to get competitive across the board outside of Kevin Harvick (who won two weeks ago at Phoenix and was a threat in Vegas until his car suffered a wheel hub failure), the team’s vice president of competition – and Stewart’s former crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing – says that the sometimes combustible Stewart has not lost his cool over the early struggles.

“We’re just not giving him what he’s comfortable with,” Greg Zipadelli admitted to the AP’s Jenna Fryer. “We’re dragging the racetrack. It’s not little things. It’s way off. Last week [at Vegas] was a human error. He did an amazing job driving that car. I went down in the corner and watched it and most people would have wrecked that thing.

“We got it home and found some mechanical, human error. Shame on us. That stuff can’t happen at this level. It certainly shouldn’t happen to that caliber of driver. We owe him a lot more than that.”

It should also be noted that in addition to recovering from his leg injury, Stewart has also been trying to find the proper rhythm with a new crew chief in former Michael Waltrip Racing member Chad Johnston.

From Zipadelli’s standpoint, Stewart and Johnston have been improving in regards to communication and that eventually, a “platform” will be found to help Stewart return to contender status.

“It seems every week they start a little bit behind in trying to figure out what he wants,” Zipadelli added. “I feel like the group we have there will do a really good job once we find that platform that Tony wants.

“They’re very detailed, understanding and will be able to tune and be able to bring him the same thing week in and week out once they find it.”

But in the here and now, Stewart faces a tall task tomorrow as he aims to move from deep within the field. Bristol has not been one of his better tracks in recent years, with just one Top-5 finish (a second in the 2010 spring race) in his last 10 starts there.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.