HAMPTON, Ga. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the chorus of voices welcoming Tony Stewart back to racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Shortly after Kevin Harvick won Saturday night’s Great Clips 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in a JR Motorsports car, Earnhardt spoke in a subdued voice about Stewart and all that has happened since the Aug. 9 incident that claimed the life of young sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.
“I just can’t imagine what the situation must be like,” Earnhardt said, “so it’s very difficult for me to comment on it or have an opinion about it because it’s just so overwhelming and so unthinkable.
“To be in his shoes, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to try to come back or try to show up and try to compete.”
But there’s no question Earnhardt is happy to see his good friend back.
“I’m glad he’s back and it’s fun seeing him back out in the car in practice,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt echoed comments made Friday from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon about Stewart’s return.
“One of the things that I did read was Jeff’s comments that Tony belongs at the track,” Earnhardt said. “I can only imagine that being here and being back to work and talking about race cars and working on his car and going through the process of the weekend is probably the best medicine.”
Earnhardt hopes to have an in-depth conversation with Stewart when the time is right, but for now is maintaining a distance and respecting Stewart’s space.
“I saw some quotes from his press conference where he said he’d be affected by this for the rest of his life and he’ll have to carry that to the end,” Earnhardt said. “But, I like him as a competitor and we’ve been friends for many, many years.
“I’m glad he’s back and hopefully he can get back into the groove and get back into the racetrack, have some success and get back to running his race team and doing the things that he thinks he needs to do.
“It’s a hard situation for everybody, the whole sport. But coming back to the racetrack, that’s where I want to be and I’m sure that’s where he wants to be.”
Even though she hasn’t raced since 2003, Shirley Muldowney still has scores of fans.
And many of them, when they heard the news that she would undergo surgery today to remove her right lung due to Stage 2 lung cancer, offered prayers and well wishes on this site, as well as on social media.
Well, even though details are slim, it appears that a five-hour surgery Wednesday morning was a success for the 75-year-old, three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion and one-time AHRA champ.
Muldowney’s agent, Rob Geiger tweeted updates earlier this evening that is great news:
INDIANAPOLIS – The Mazda Road to Indy has a double dip of content this weekend with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at the Lucas Oil Raceway short oval in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis.
Both events are on Friday; the Freedom 100 airs at noon ET and local time as part of NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage. Kevin Lee, Anders Krohn and Katie Hargitt will have the call for the Freedom.
The Freedom 100 is arguably the marquee race of the year for Indy Lights, and a good springboard to the Verizon IndyCar Series – no less than 24 of the 33 starters in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field have some degree of Mazda Road to Indy experience.
That being said, the randomness of the Freedom 100 has produced a variety of winners who haven’t exactly gone on to huge things in IndyCar.
Here’s the past winners list:
2015: Jack Harvey
2014: Gabby Chaves
2013: Peter Dempsey
2012: Esteban Guerrieri
2011: Josef Newgarden
2010: Wade Cunningham
2009: Wade Cunningham
2008: Dillon Battistini
2007: Alex Lloyd
2006: Wade Cunningham
2005: Jaime Camara
2004: Thiago Medeiros
2003: Ed Carpenter
That’s three past winners in Carpenter, Newgarden and Chaves who are racing on Sunday. Harvey, Dempsey and Guerrieri have a combined zero starts; meanwhile all of Cunningham, Battistini, Camara and Medeiros had less than a season of in IndyCar.
Polesitters have been random too, with some surprises including Ethan Ringel (last year) and Ken Losch (2007) of note.
Traditionally Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has fielded strong entries at the Speedway, and that puts any of its four cars – talented sophomore RC Enerson, Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and fellow rookies Andre Negrao and Heamin Choi into contention almost from the off. Enerson, in particular, is due his first win of the year after niggling turbo issues have hampered most of his season.
Belardi Auto Racing, given its engineering strength in depth, is also a strong contender and a winner here twice previously in dramatic fashion with Chaves and Dempsey. This year they have Zach Veach, who topped the 200-mph mark during testing on Monday, and Felix Rosenqvist, who will look for a significantly better second oval start than his first at Phoenix.
Either of Enerson and Veach would make it seven winners in eight races this year. The other six thus far are, in order, Felix Serralles, Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Urrutia and Dean Stoneman.
Kaiser expects to be better than both he and the Juncos Racing team were here last year. Another potential surprise is Neil Alberico, who was strong in testing despite a slight incident in the first session.
Choi, replacing Scott Anderson, is the only driver change among the 16 entered for the Freedom 100. It’s the biggest field for this race since 2012, when 18 cars started – only 11 have started each of the last three years.
Arguably the more intriguing part of the weekend from the Pro Mazda or USF2000 perspective is the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which gets unveiled Friday morning, 9 a.m., at IMS.
It’s the second new car to be unveiled at IMS in recent years, with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda having been unveiled in May 2014 ahead of its race debut for 20115.
The Pro Mazda and USF2000 races occur later in the day on Friday at IMS.
In Pro Mazda, the question is whether anyone can stop the Pato O’Ward roll of awesomeness for Team Pelfrey. The young Mexican has won five of six races to date, although teammate Aaron Telitz is a past winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in USF2000. The remaining six drivers in the field will look to end O’Ward’s run of form.
USF2000 sees its field temporarily cut in half for its lone oval race of the season, down from 27 cars entered at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend to a mere 14 cars on the 0.686-mile oval.
While Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Pabst Racing have three cars entered apiece – Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have propelled Cape to four straight wins this year -known oval setup ace John Walko will likely have Victor Franzoni’s car ready to go to contend.
Current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud — who comes into Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 riding a three-race winning streak — has a new addition to the family: Norman Pagenaud.
The newest Pagenaud already has his own Twitter account and while ‘dad’ was in Detroit Tuesday during the annual NASCAR cross-country media tour day, Norman REALLY got to know his new home away from home: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Check out some of Norman’s best tweets of the day, as well as a few from Simon.
Oh, and did we mention that Norman is a puppy? He’s sooooooo cute!