Report: Stewart’s NASCAR driving status still TBD for the weekend

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Tony Stewart’s NASCAR driving status is still be determined for this weekend’s upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400, and all his external racing activity is now on an indefinite hiatus, per a report from NBCSN’s Nate Ryan for USA Today.

In an email, Stewart-Haas Racing communications director Mike Arning wrote to Ryan:

“The decision to compete in this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Michigan will be Tony’s, and he will have as much time as he needs to make that decision. It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included. He is grieving, and grief doesn’t have a timetable.”

He also confirmed the lack of other racing outside NASCAR commitments within the same email.

As of 2:30 p.m. ET Monday, SHR had not released an official statement on its website or social media pages to confirm whether or not Stewart would be in the field. Until further notice, he will be listed on the race entry list in the team’s No. 14 Chevrolet.

As it pertains to his potential status in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Stewart would need to attempt to qualify for the race to ensure he’s been active at each race weekend. A driver has to attempt to qualify for each of the 26 regular season races and be inside the top 30 in points – plus in Stewart’s case, he’d need a win – in order to be Chase-eligible.

Although he did not race at Watkins Glen this weekend – Regan Smith filled in – Stewart did qualify the car and thus remains Chase-eligible at the moment.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.