Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart will not race today; Regan Smith to drive No. 14 (UPDATED with NASCAR statement)


UPDATE, 11:15 a.m. ET: NASCAR has just issued a statement on the situation:

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”

In a short press conference this morning at Watkins Glen International, Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli confirmed that Tony Stewart will not compete in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355.

Zipadelli said that NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith, who has made 171 career Sprint Cup starts, will fill in for Stewart in the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet.

This decision comes after Zipadelli reportedly told USA Today that Sunday would be “business as usual” for the No. 14 team.

Stewart was involved in an incident Saturday night at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in which he struck and killed an on-foot driver during a sprint car event.

“It’s just a unbelievable tragedy,” Zipadelli said this morning. “Our hearts go out to obviously Kevin and his family, thoughts and prayers. This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody – his family, our family, Stewart Haas, Tony Stewart.

“So, with that being said, we feel as a group – Tony will not drive today. Regan Smith is on his way up. NASCAR has approved for him to get in the race car today. They’re gonna do everything they can to help us expedite getting his seat so he can be comfortable.

“That’s kind of what we’ve been working on and trying to get executed – get Regan here and obviously, anything we can do for Tony and everybody else. It’s just an emotional time right now.”

Zipadelli said that he met with Stewart this morning, and that “he feels strongly that this is the right thing to do.”

“We at SHR support it and agree with it,” he said. “Like I said, it’s a difficult time for both parties. There’s not a lot you can do. The only thing we can do is do what we feel is right, and this is what we feel is right. We’re supporting Tony in it.”

Stewart was to start 13th in today’s event and was still seeking to earn a regular season win that would put him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

However, by not starting today’s race, he will be eliminated from post-season contention.

But Zipadelli insisted that the Chase scenario was “the furthest thing from our minds right now” and today was simply about getting through the race “the best we can as a group.”

“There’s a few of us who were in there just supporting him,” he added. “He’s a brother to me…He’s way more than a boss. He’s going through a tough time and it’s emotional for him. Like I said, as a group, we support him.

“We feel like he’s doing the right thing, and we’ll move on from this.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.