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Tony Stewart update: ‘When he’s ready to get in the car, he’ll be in there’

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Tony Stewart will not get back in a race car until he’s ready and will make that decision solely himself, Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood said during a Friday morning press conference at Michigan International Speedway.

Stewart will miss a second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup event after the tragic accident last Saturday in a sprint car race in upstate New York that resulted in the death of a fellow racer, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr.

“This decision (not to race this weekend) was Tony’s,” Frood said. “It’s been an emotional week for him. He’s grieving.

“He made the decision he’s not ready to get in the race car. We’ll take it week by week. It’s going to be up to Tony when he’s ready to get back into the car.”

Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith was a last-minute replacement for Stewart in last Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen. This weekend’s race at Michigan will see veteran Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton driving Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet.

There has been no further discussion of Burton or any other driver filling in for Stewart in the next race (Bristol, next Saturday night) or beyond.

“Jeff will be the driver this weekend in Michigan,” Frood said. “We have not discussed any other races. We’ll talk to Tony. When he’s ready to get in the car, he’ll be in there, and we’ll go from there.”

SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli approached Burton on Wednesday to see if he’d be willing to fill in for Stewart, if necessary.

“Greg reached out to me Wednesday morning to ask if I was interested; that started the process,” Burton said. “It was like just in case Tony decides (not to race), we didn’t know.”

Burton, who will become a full-time analyst for NASCAR on NBC next season, hopes to bring a calming and stabilizing force to the team, which is also grieving over last Saturday’s tragic accident.

“My role is hopefully to provide a little stability, give that team a chance to have the most success they can have in a very difficult situation,” Burton said. “Hopefully me being here in some kind of way, I can help find a way for a healing process start.

“I don’t know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal for everybody. Obviously, it’s an awkward situation for everybody, but there’s a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing that work real hard and deserve 100 percent effort from me, and that’s what they’re going to get.”

On other fronts, Frood had the following to say:

* Where Stewart is currently: “Tony’s surrounded right now by his closest friends and family. We’re obviously in contact with him. His location is of a private nature right now.”

* The reaction of Stewart’s sponsors: “From a sponsor standpoint, we’ve got the greatest sponsors in the world. They’re very caring, they understand it’s an emotional time, there’s much sympathy for the family of the young man and they care for Tony. We’ve had a great deal of support from our sponsors.”

* This weekend’s task at hand: “As far as getting ready for this weekend, the task at hand for Greg and the rest of our crew is to prepare four cars for our drivers and figure out how to win this weekend at Michigan.”

* Stewart’s chances of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup will effectively end this weekend because NASCAR rules specify a driver must qualify for all pre-Chase races to be eligible for the playoffs. While Stewart qualified at Watkins Glen before the tragic accident, he will not qualify at Michigan.

“I’ll be honest, the Chase is of the lowest priority as it relates to Tony right now,” Frood said. “As far as the Chase, the only care I have this weekend is getting Danica (Patrick) into the Chase.

“Right now, it’s about getting Tony in a better place than he is right now. And when he’s ready to do that, he’ll get back in the car. We don’t care about the Chase (for him).”

* On media hysteria and inaccurate reporting: “We certainly understand the media has a job to do. And while there may be some irresponsible reporting, right now the focus should be on the family that’s grieving. And there’s been some focus that hasn’t been there. I’m quite certain that when we get through this that everyone will get the story from the key parties.”

* Whether this tragedy has affected the stability of SHR: “Absolutely not.”

* On how Stewart is holding up: “It’s been an emotional week for him. He’s grieving. Any time someone is lost, especially at a race track, it’s tragic. It was a tragic accident and he’s dealing with quite a bit of grief.”

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Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.