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Tony Stewart’s return to NASCAR may be one of hardest things he’s ever done

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Baby steps.

That’s the only way Tony Stewart will be able to make his return to NASCAR, let alone to some semblance of normal life.

While he’ll be returning to the familiarity of being in a race car and around fellow drivers and race fans Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it’s almost as if he’ll be starting his career anew.

Sure, he’s a former three-time Sprint Cup champion. Sure, he’s won nearly 50 Cup races in his career.

And sure, he’s one of the most visible, outspoken and both cheered and booed drivers in the sport.

But in a sense, when he arrives at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday, Stewart will be restarting his career from scratch.

It’s hard to imagine how Stewart will be able to climb into his race car for the first time Friday afternoon for practice with his usual confident air and somehow try to put out of his mind the August 9 tragedy that claimed the life of young driver Kevin Ward Jr.

It’s also hard to imagine how Stewart will ever return to the Smoke of old, the way his fans know and love him by.

It’s incomprehensible for probably 99.9 percent of us to understand what both the Ward family and Stewart have gone through and will continue to go through not just for the immediate future, but the rest of their respective lives.

Forget the fact that this was a tragedy that took place in a race and on a racetrack. Consider instead how so few of us have been involved in accidents that took another person’s life. How can we begin to relate to what Stewart and the Ward family are feeling?

For those that have been in an incident that’s resulted in a loss of someone else’s life, there’s no textbook on how to come back from such a tragedy. There’s no Cliff’s Notes or cheat sheet on how to return to normal – if there’s any way Stewart will be able to do that.

Instead, for everyone who has ever gone through and survived a tragedy that has involved the loss of human life, they’ve had to invariably dig down deep and follow their instinct and best judgment to go on with their lives, to go back to the person they were – or the best semblance they can muster.

There’s no on-off switch that Stewart can turn to go back to the Smoke of old. There’s no way he’ll ever be able to forget Ward’s memory or find a way to put the tragedy of that fateful August night out of his mind.

There’s also no way Stewart will likely ever stop from reflecting back on the accident, nor continue to second- and even third-guess himself to see if there was anything humanly possible he could have done to prevent the tragedy that ensued.

All of that is bad enough.

But then there’s Friday afternoon at 1 pm ET, when Stewart will face the media for the first time since the Ward accident.

Knowing the oftentimes adversarial relationship the media has had with Stewart and vice-versa in the past, it’s likely going to take every ounce of willpower in his body to contain himself and his composure Friday, to not make a flippant quip or lose his cool.

Questions are going to fly at him from all corners, queries that he’s never had to answer before.

After all, how do you describe to a friend or family member – let alone the national media – what it feels like to have been part of a tragic accident that claimed the life of such a young, aspiring racer?

Stewart is likely to be peppered in ways that he never has, let alone ever imagined. In the past, he could – and oftentimes did – snap at a reporter and abruptly call a premature end to the interview, walking away in a huff.

He can’t do that Friday. He’ll have to patiently and fully answer every question posed to him as best and honestly as he possibly can, lest an overzealous questioner attempt to try and discredit any of Stewart’s answers and draw him into a confrontation.

Frankly, Stewart will face nothing short of an inquisition by the media Friday, one unlike any he’s ever endured.

How Stewart gets through that will likely set the stage and tone for every other media interview he’ll ever have for the rest of his life and career.

And frankly, for as tough of a Type-A personality that Stewart has, don’t be surprised if we see tears from him. In a way, Friday’s press conference may wind up being the most cathartic thing Stewart has gone through since the tragedy occurred late on the evening of August 9.

To make sure to himself, his fans and the Ward family that he’ll never forget young Kevin, perhaps Stewart will have some kind of memento or sticker upon or inside his race car to honor and remember Ward. It’s the least he can do to try and somewhat soften everyone’s pain.

There’s no question this tragedy has made Stewart a changed man and he will be that way forever. From here on out, he’ll be known as both a three-time champion and, sadly, someone who was involved in an tragic accident that killed another human being.

And also from here on out, Stewart will just have to approach everything a day, hour or even a minute at a time – and it will start by taking one baby step after another.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

James Hinchcliffe has 11-week lead in IndyCar race at Texas

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) James Hinchcliffe has been leading the IndyCar race at Texas for such a long time.

When the rain-interrupted race resumes on lap 72 Saturday night at the high-banked – and hopefully dry – 1 1/2-mile oval, Hinchcliffe will have led for 76 days.

“It’s better than not leading at all, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe said, with a chuckle. “The most important thing is that we’re still leading at the end.”

A lot has happened in the 2 1/2 months since that waterlogged June weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, including the completion of five other IndyCar Series races. Will Power won three of them, the last being 500 miles at Pocono on Monday after a one-day rain delay.

Since the Texas race was red-flagged on June 12 – and technically still is – the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup, and LeBron James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title that ended Cleveland’s 52-year major title drought.

Among other sports headlines in that span, Andy Murray and Serena Williams added Grand Slam titles by winning at Wimbledon, three major champions were crowned in golf, and Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Michael Phelps won more gold medals at the Olympics in Rio this month.

“It’s unique in that James Hinchcliffe has been leading for 2 1/2 months, and surely he’s got to go to the bathroom before we get started here,” Speedway President Eddie Gossage said with a smile.

“It’s been fun. There’s been a lot of interesting chatter on Twitter, and certainly Eddie reminding people every other day that I’m still leading,” Hinchliffe said. “Hopefully, he can be telling people every other day that we won the race.”

Hinchcliffe, the Indianapolis 500 polesitter who led 27 laps before finishing seventh there in May, hasn’t led another lap since leaving Texas.

The last time an IndyCar race started and resumed another day was at Brazil in 2011, but that was only 24 hours. After the first 14 laps and a 2 1/2-hour rain delay there, the final 41 laps were completed the next day with polesitter Power winning.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve done before as far as rainouts go,” Power said about going back to Texas, where he will resume running fourth.

Unlike the quick resumption in Brazil five years ago, IndyCar drivers are returning to Texas 11 weeks later and will have only a 10-minute practice session before starting to race again.

Only 71 of the scheduled 248 laps were completed in June , when the Firestone 600 was initially postponed from Saturday night without the cars ever making it to the starting grid. After the race started 40 minutes late Sunday and then the rain returned, the decision for an unprecedented months-long delay was made since there was more wet weather in the immediate forecast.

Heavy rain fell for several hours after the cars came off the track 54 laps shy of what was needed to make it an official race. There were indeed more downpours the following day.

Since IndyCar rules don’t allow for starting over a race that has already taken the green flag, the only choice was to resume the race from where it was stopped.

Hinchcliffe took the lead for the first time on lap 41, the last green-flag lap counted before a hard crash involving Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, who won’t be allowed to resume this weekend. Newgarden sustained a broken collarbone and small fracture in his hand, but won a month later at Iowa.

There were 30 laps run under caution while track officials worked to repair the damaged safety barrier, and that work was still being done along the frontstretch when the rain started falling again.

“I’ll be perfect honestly, I tried to convince IndyCar to restart the race, as did several drivers, but their rulebook says what it says and I can’t fault them for that,” Gossage said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things … who would think it’s going to rain, and rain for days and we knew we couldn’t do it.”

Fast Facts: Firestone 600 (resumption) at Texas Motor Speedway

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Courtesy of INDYCAR PR, here’s all you need to know ahead of this weekend’s resumption of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, the 14th of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule:

Firestone 600 (The Resumption) Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday, June 10 – Saturday, Aug. 27 (Race was scheduled for June 11, started on June 12 and was red-flagged after 71 laps. Race is scheduled to restart on Aug. 27)

Track: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.455-mile oval in Fort Worth, Texas

Race distance: 248 laps / 360.84 miles (177 laps/257.535 miles remaining)

Firestone tire allotment: Each Entrant will be allotted one new set of tires for the mandatory install lap and practice session. Entrants will be allotted six new sets for the race.

Twitter: @TXMotorSpeedway @IndyCar, #Firestone600, #IndyCar

Event website: www.TexasMotorSpeedway.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2015 race winner: Scott Dixon (No. 9 Energizer EcoAdvanced Chevrolet)

Current race leader: James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda)

Current running order: Firestone 600 Lap 71 (PDF) Note: Cars must be in the aerodynamic configuration they were in when the race was red flagged. The only exception will be the front wing angle. Lap count will begin the first time by the start/finish line upon exiting pit lane.

2016 Verizon P1 Award winner: Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda), 48.2460 seconds, 217.137 mph (two laps)

NBCSN television broadcast: Race, 9 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 27 (live); Kevin Lee is the lead announcer for the NBCSN broadcast this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Brad Gillie reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races as well as qualifying sessions are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209,IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions are available on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video streaming: The practice session from Texas Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET,Saturday Aug. 27) will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

INDYCAR Mobile app: Verizon Wireless puts fans around the world in the driver’s seat with its INDYCAR Mobile app. The app has been enhanced with new features to keep fans in the know of the latest race-day action. Exclusive features of the INDYCAR Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers will stream live through the app and includes enhanced real-time leaderboard and car telemetry; the ability to follow the race in real time with the interactive 3D track; live in-car camera video streaming for select drivers during Verizon IndyCar Series races; live driver and pit crew radio transmissions during races and live Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio streaming during all track activities.

At-track schedule (all times local):
Saturday, Aug. 27
4:30 – 5 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
8:15 p.m. – Command to restart engines
8:16 p.m. – Firestone 600 resumes on Lap 72 (171 laps/257.535 miles remain), NBCSN (Live)

Championship facts:
•  Simon Pagenaud leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with three races to be completed for the first time in his career.
•  Simon Pagenaud leads Will Power by 20 points. Pagenaud has led the championship since the second race of the season at Phoenix. With 54 maximum points available at Texas, the points lead could change for the second time in 2015.
•  There are 15 drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin. Any driver who trails the points leader by 158 points or more following the race will be eliminated from contention.
•  Three drivers were eliminated from championship contention at Pocono on Aug. 22 – Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Conor Daly.
•  Since the first Indy car race at Texas in 1997, the winning driver has won the championship six times: Sam Hornish Jr (2001 Race 2; 2002 Race 2); Tony Kanaan (2004 Race 1), Scott Dixon (2008 and 2015) and Dario Franchitti (2011 Race 1).

Key championship point statistic: The driver who has led the championship with three races to go has failed to win the championship in five of the last six seasons. Will Power in 2014 is the exception.

Point differential: The 20 points which separate Simon Pagenaud and Will Power is the third smallest margin with three races remaining since 2010. Will Power led Helio Castroneves by four points in 2014 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points in 2012. The average deficit with three races to go since 2010 is 23.16 points.

Championship-eligible drivers’ results at Texas: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Will Power have all won races at Texas Motor Speedway. Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan have seven podium finishes. Pagenaud’s best finish was fourth in 2014. Newgarden (who will not participate in the race’s resumption due to crash on June 12) has never finished better than eighth.

Tornado near IMS also interrupts Indy Lights road course Cooper Tire test

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17:  A general view of the Pagoda during practice for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 17, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was meant to be having a full day of Cooper Tire testing for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Zach Veach was the one undertaking the testing in a Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda.

Veach had a busy morning, noting he’d run two full race distances.

And then an afternoon interruption came in the way of a tornado near Speedway, Ind.

Testing was paused this afternoon and those on site at IMS went for cover.

A tornado struck near Kokomo Speedway this afternoon, where a celebration of life for Bryan Clauson was taking place, and leveled a Starbucks.

Here’s a number of tweets and social posts from near IMS for this tornado:

Wow…not sure it that touched down but it was darn close. #tornado #Indianapolis

A photo posted by Michael Young (@trackdude500) on

Tornado strikes just few miles from Bryan Clauson tribute

clauson tribute kokomo
(Photo courtesy of USACNation Twitter page)
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A celebration of the life of late Sprint car driver Bryan Clauson has been interrupted — but not impacted — by a tornado that has caused considerable damage just a few miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

The celebration of Clauson’s life brought out a packed house at Kokomo Speedway, one of Clauson’s favorite racetracks. He lived in nearby Noblesville. The celebration began shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Kokomo Speedway, which apparently did not suffer any damage from the tornado, is located about four miles northwest of the mall.

The tornado struck near the Markland Mall, located on the east side of Kokomo at the intersection of 17th and Reed streets, causing significant damage, including the flattening of a Starbucks coffee shop that abuts the mall.

A large presence of first responders is on-scene at the mall, and there are other reports of significant property damage in other areas, particularly the east side of Kokomo.

The city of Kokomo, the 13th largest city in Indiana with a population of approximately 60,000, is about 50 miles due north of Indianapolis.

Here are some of the first reports on Twitter, including several from many of Clauson’s fellow drivers and other motorsports officials:

 

 

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