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.”

WATCH LIVE: ABC Supply 500 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ run of different types of tracks continues with today’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway, as the final superspeedway race of the year to kick off the final four-race stretch of the 2017 season comes after a July where the series raced once apiece on a short oval, a street course and permanent road course.

You can watch the 200-lap, 500-mile race from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. live on NBCSN (stream link here); the series is back live on NBCSN for the duration of the season after the last two races were live on CNBC, with an NBCSN same day encore.

Kevin Lee is on the call from Pocono along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller in the pits.

IndyCar coverage will run from 2 through 6 p.m. ET.

After qualifying, here’s some of the questions to consider in Pocono:

  • How will the championship picture shake out after today’s race?
  • Might a new or surprise winner enter the mix?
  • Can Honda get back to winning and stop Team Penske and Chevrolet’s three-race win streak?
  • How might temperature, wind and downforce levels change the game?

My colleague Kyle Lavigne is on site in Pocono this weekend and may have some additional thoughts going into today’s race.


Tanak wins Rally Germany, Ogier retakes WRC points lead

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Ott Tänak flew to his second victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Germany on Sunday as Sebastien Ogier moved back into the lead of the drivers’ standings with three rounds to go.

Tänak led from Friday through to the final power stage to give M-Sport Ford team victory, marking his first tarmac win alongside co-driver Martin Järveoja.

“It’s a great feeling. The start to the rally went perfectly, after that it was just about controlling our lead,” Tänak said.

“Winning our first tarmac event feels cool. With 25 points here I don’t see any reason why we can’t fight for the championship. We will keep fighting; we need to keep winning if we’re going to win the championship.”

Tänak sits 33 points back from Ogier, whose bid for a fifth straight title was boosted with a run to third in Germany as chief championship rival Thierry Neuville retired with suspension damage on Saturday.

Neuville is now 17 points off the lead, with the WRC now embarking on a six-week break before returning in Spain on October 6.

Rosberg opens up on post-F1 life, tech investment interests

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Anyone who follows Nico Rosberg on social media will know that he has been keeping very busy since retiring just five days after winning his maiden Formula 1 championship at the end of last year.

As well as announcing he is to become a father for a second time, Rosberg has been travelling plenty, notably spending a lot of time in the United States and, in particular, Silicon Valley last month.

Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University, but has opened up more about his interests in technology and plans to invest in an interview with The Times.

“I recently got back from a trip to Silicon Valley. It was on my bucket list and it was really inspirational to see what happens there; I thought the mentality was fascinating,” Rosberg said.

“In our society, we look down on people who fail, whereas over there it’s normal to fail — it’s courageous. If you’re not scared of failing, you can get through to innovation.

“Over here, it’s very money, money, money, but over there people want to reach out to others, make their lives better and look after our planet, too.

“I’ve always been passionate about technology, and investment is of interest to me at this stage. Mobility is what I’m most interested in, because there’s been a huge disruption in that area and it’s going to change the health and future of our planet.

“It’s a fascinating time. I visited Uber and they’re working on their “network in the sky” already. They say that in the space of six years I’m going to be sitting here and my app will tell me which rooftop my drone is going to be on and at what time. That’s just around the corner, it’s pretty insane.

“So I’m starting to get active in that direction. I’m a conservative person, so I need to be careful. I do prefer to go for companies that already have a bit of a track record, but we’ll see.”

The interview cites Rosberg’s net worth as being £23 million ($29.6m), with the German admitting he earned “a lot” during his final year in F1 with Mercedes in 2016.

Nevertheless, Rosberg claimed he is “not a big spender”, instead opting for a number of property investment opportunities, his best being some space in London that has become a convenience store.

One of the big factors in Rosberg’s decision to retire from F1 was becoming a father, and he admitted that it also changed his approach to dealing with financial matters.

“Having [Alaia] really opened my eyes to future planning, because I want her to have all the opportunities I had in my life,” Rosberg said.

Ryan Hunter-Reay cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been cleared to drive in today’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) following his accident in qualifying for the race.

The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda was re-evaluated Sunday morning by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows after being transported, then released, from a nearby hospital in Pocono on Saturday.

Here’s INDYCAR’s full statement:

Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was re-evaluated by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows this morning after sustaining injuries to his left knee and hip Saturday following a crash in ABC Supply 500 qualifying. Hunter-Reay has been cleared to drive.

Hunter-Reay will start from the rear of the field and press on in a great comeback after the accident. Last year he drove from the rear of the field – twice – to ultimately finish third. He won this race in 2015, his most recent Verizon IndyCar Series victory.

He posted a couple tweets last night thanking everyone for the support and the Holmatro Safety Team and Pocono’s staff for quick work to help him after sustaining hip and knee injuries from a heavy 138G impact.