Bass Pro Shops chief glad to see close friend Tony Stewart racing again

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Tony Stewart has had to call upon and rely on his family and friends to get through the last three weeks following the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy.

One of Stewart’s closest friends is not just his fishing buddy, he’s also founder and president of one of Stewart’s primary sponsors on the No. 14 Chevrolet – namely, Johnny Morris, president and CEO of Bass Pro Shops.

Morris’ roots to Atlanta Motor Speedway run long. It’s there that BPS sponsored several races over the years, including presenting one of the most unique trophies to race winners that the sports world has ever seen: typically a stuffed animal like a hulking grizzly bear.

Because of those long roots to AMS and his friendship to Stewart, Morris took the unusual step of releasing a statement offering support to his long-time friend.

Here is Morris’ full statement:

“Today our thoughts are with our friend and fishing buddy Tony Stewart as he prepares to return to racing after what has been a difficult time in his life,” Morris’ statement began. “Our hearts go out to him and to the family and friends of Kevin Ward Jr., who died in the tragic sprint car event accident on August 9.

“I was able to spend time with Tony last week and it made my heart ache to see him so devastated by this incident.

“Like many other race fans, I love Tony’s passion and still on the track and to watch this fierce competitor compete. But the off-track Tony Stewart is the man that I have come to respect. Time and time again, I’ve witnessed Tony’s quiet generosity and compassion as he gives to others. By personally supporting numerous programs like Catch-A-Dream Foundation and Victory Junction, Tony has given many ailing children a chance to experience outdoor sports and have fun opportunities they might not otherwise have.

“His love of racing goes far beyond his work behind the wheel. It is common for Tony to sign autographs for each and every race fan for hours on end. Behind the scenes, Tony continually steps in to help junior drivers get started in racing because he cares about the sport and its fans.

“What started as a sponsorship discussion between Tony and I fifteen years ago has turned into a long and special friendship. It’s a friendship that has given me the opportunity to get to know one of the most compassionate and kind-hearted individuals I have ever met.

“On behalf of the Bass Pro Family, and as Tony’s friend, we are proud to stand by him as he returns this weekend to the sport he loves so much.”

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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.