Eldora and Indy putting a lot on Tony Stewart’s plate

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Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is in the middle of a very busy week.

Last weekend, “Smoke” made a successful return to sprint car racing with a win and then a third-place finish in events at two Michigan dirt tracks.

But this Wednesday night, he’ll put on the track owner’s hat as his Eldora Speedway plays host to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the dirt-track “Mudsummer Classic.”

And then come Friday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he’ll begin his quest for a third Brickyard 400 victory that would also propel him into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“It’s almost like two weeks in one for me,” Stewart said today in a NASCAR teleconference. “Eldora’s enough to cause you enough stress to last you for the rest of the year, and then going to the Brickyard, that’s a big race for me as well.”

While he helps with final preparations to get Eldora ready for the Trucks, he’s also looking ahead to returning to Indy, where he won in 2005 and again in 2007.

“When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy, there is nothing — that is sacred ground to me,” said Stewart, who ran a tire test there for Goodyear just a few weeks ago. “It always has been, always will be. I don’t care how many times you win there, it’s never enough.

“It’s nice to have won two races already there. That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

And doing it is what matters right now for Stewart, who is 17 points behind the 16th-place cutoff that’s currently occupied by Greg Biffle. With 11 drivers having won so far this year, five spots on the 16-driver Chase Grid remain open.

Stewart called the matter a “double-edged sword,” in that while a win would put him in the post-season, he’s still in contention to make the cut on points alone.

“Mindset-wise, there is nothing that is different other than we just need to — as much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we’re kind of in a position where we’re close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that,” he said.

“Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk if you run second losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, ‘Well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.'”

But that’s for later in the week. Right now, his main focus on his track’s big race on Wednesday night and getting the chance to truly get a sense of the atmosphere around it.

Last year’s inaugural “Mudsummer Classic” was almost universally hailed as a triumph for everyone involved. But Stewart was so busy with preparations for the event that he says all he wanted to do every night was go to sleep.

He figures that the atmosphere will be very much different from a “normal” NASCAR weekend, but admitted that “it’s hard to describe.”

“I’ve been at Eldora so much but different divisions with Sprint cars and winged Sprint cars and late models, and modifieds – the show is different,” he explained.

“Even though it’s the same racetrack, it’s always different. It’s not going to be what you expect to see out on a Truck Series event. It’s kind of like taking Cup cars to a road course.

“The same series, the same drivers, the same vehicles, but it’s just a totally different racetrack. So I think that’s what makes it so much fun for everybody is that it’s outside the box and outside the norm.”

Verizon confirms IndyCar title sponsor role exit after 2018

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As perhaps expected, Verizon has confirmed Friday it will end its role as Verizon IndyCar Series title sponsor following the end of its fifth year in 2018.

Reports surfaced shortly after this year’s IndyCar season finale at Sonoma Raceway that Verizon was re-evaluating its role within the series.

Indeed, as it was before becoming title sponsor in 2014, Verizon will remain a partner with Team Penske despite not also carrying the series title sponsor role.

In a statement, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles thanked Verizon for its support in this overall series role.

“Verizon has been a super sponsor and will continue to be so through all of next season. We appreciate that they reached their decision in a timely way so that we can thoughtfully and deliberately go back into the market for 2019,” Miles said in a statement, via Sports Business Journal.

Roger Penske also issued a statement, also via SBJ, saying, “We want to thank Verizon for the support they have provided the IndyCar Series and the role they have played as they helped us grow the sport as the title sponsor for the past five years. Verizon has helped the series reach new fans through their world-class activation and technology, including the Verizon IndyCar Mobile App. While they will no longer be the Series Title Sponsor after 2018, it is exciting they will still be in the sport through their relationship with our organization.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series has built a wave of momentum over the last few years with its competition level, parity and enthusiasm for some revived events, with Gateway Motorsports Park and Road America standing out as highlights being brought back after an extended hiatus.

The good news for INDYCAR (sanctioning body) is that there’s a new Dallara universal aero kit that’s been busy with testing the last few months and is now in the hands of manufacturers for manufacturer testing, and the series announced long-term extensions with Dallara, Chevrolet, Honda and Firestone earlier this year. New series champion Josef Newgarden has also been busy in a number of media events and appearances since the Sonoma season finale.

With this confirmation, INDYCAR has a new entitlement sponsor to find and a new TV contract to sort, with both existing contracts up after 2018.