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Tony Stewart to race in Rico Abreu fundraiser at Calistoga

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SONOMA, Calif. (AP) NASCAR is back at Sonoma Raceway and the defending race winner won’t be part of the field on Sunday.

Tony Stewart, who scored the last of his 49 career victories here, is retired now and watches the Cup races as a team owner. He still plans to race this weekend.

Stewart will run at Calistoga Speedway in an event that is being largely promoted by Rico Abreu and his father, local businessman David Abreu.

The race used to be called the Wine Country Classic, but has been renamed the Boys and Girls Club Dirt Track Classic. David Abreu designed the event as a fundraiser for a facility to house after-school programs for local children in Calistoga.

“My dad and I have always wanted to promote a race to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club,” Rico Abreu said. “There is a need for it with our demographics and it accommodates hundreds of kids in our valley. It provides them a safe place to learn and grow.”

Rico Abreu, one of the nation’s top dirt track drivers, benefited from the program along with his two siblings in St. Helena.

Stewart, Abreu and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are among those entered in the Saturday night dirt track event to help draw attendance.

David Abreu, founder of St. Helena’s Abreu Vineyards, is hoping to raise $250,000 for an equipped clubhouse at the Calistoga Boys and Club location. He will give a famous “Macho Magnums” – 40 magnums from his Napa Valley 2010 collection – to the first $100,000 donor.

It will be Stewart’s first Winged Sprint Car start at the Calistoga half-mile. He did win a USAC Western Midget Series race in 1994. He also set the midget track record that same weekend and held it until USAC made its return to the venue in 2008.

“I’m really looking forward to running the Calistoga Speedway since I haven’t raced there since 1994,” Stewart said. “I’m also excited to see all the improvements that have taken place at the track since the last time I’ve been there.”

Abreu is driving as well as promoting and fundraising. He’s competing Saturday night in the Sprint Car Challenge Tour 360’s and the King of the West-NARC 410’s.

“Having Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in competition will certainly be an exciting thing for all the fans in Nor-Cal,” said Rico Abreu.

More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/

Jay Howard fastest on hectic Thursday of Indy 500 practice

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INDIANAPOLIS – The third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda entered into this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is more known for its supporting partner, in Tony Stewart and his foundation’s Team One Cure program.

However, the driver wheeling said No. 77 car was the surprise story of the day on a frenetic Thursday of action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Jay Howard.

The 36-year-old Englishman, who’s spent six years out since his last Verizon IndyCar Series starts in 2011 and now runs F4 and go-kart teams, got a monster tow in the first 30 minutes of six hours of running to lead the timesheets with what is the fastest lap of the month thus far at 226.744 mph.

Of note, Howard was 24th on the no-tow rankings at 219.756 mph.

Stewart was in attendance on the day along with a couple notable others in the SPM pit, including past Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu.

Howard ended ahead of two Andretti Autosport cars in Ryan Hunter-Reay (225.826 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda and Marco Andretti (225.709 mph) in the No. 27 Snapple Honda car.

One of their teammates, Takuma Sato in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, topped the no-tow charts at 224.734 mph, and that ranked him ninth in the field.

More than 2,000 laps (2,362) were turned in what was the busiest day of the week by far, with action coming hot and heavy in the opening two hours and the last two hours.

What was meant to be a bunch of qualifying simulations, however, turned into a mock race in the last hour of the day.

Between drivers from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises, upwards of a dozen cars were exchanging positions around the 2.5-mile oval.

It was a frenetic amount of action as drivers slotted in-and-out of running, all gauging where and when to make their moves for position. Temperatures started in the low-80s today and ticked up to the mid-80s, with track temperatures in the mid-110s to low-120s, so it made for good race condition simulations.

Several drivers topped the 100-lap mark on the day. Helio Castroneves, Will Power and James Hinchcliffe were over 100 laps banked while others such as Fernando Alonso, Charlie Kimball and Jack Harvey were in the 90-lap completed mark.

Alonso’s day in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry saw him provide a number of highlights, both with his running in traffic and his lines set in single-car running. On the whole, he ended fourth at 225.619 mph for his best lap yet, while his no-tow speed was no slouch either – it was 223.687 mph.

Josef Newgarden’s day ended early with a crash in the first couple hours of running. He was checked, released and cleared to drive but the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was not as fortunate. After the accident, Newgarden was done for the day.

Another driver whose day was cut short was Sebastien Bourdais with another Honda engine issue in the back of his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. The Frenchman had a similar issue during the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the weekend, and coupled with Graham Rahal’s failure earlier this week, it’s been a week where reliability has been a talking point just as much as outright speed.

The 33rd and final driver set to enter this year’s race, Buddy Lazier, made it out for installation laps in his renumbered No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, following a build during the week of his car by the small, family-run, Vail, Col.-based team.

The boost is set to be increased for Friday’s scheduled Fast Friday running from noon until 6 p.m., however weather may intervene and limit or halt running altogether.

Speeds are below.


Jay Howard confirmed in Tony Stewart’s supported SPM Indy entry

Photo: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
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Occasional Verizon IndyCar Series competitor Jay Howard will make his comeback to the series for the first time in six years, having been confirmed Monday as driver of the Tony Stewart Foundation Team One Cure-supported No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to have this opportunity,” Howard said in a release. “I’m not one to give up on a dream and I have every bit of determination to make this a successful effort for Tony, Team One Cure and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. I’m in the best condition both mentally and physically, and my race craft is on point. We will be more than ready when IMS opens for practice this May.”

Stewart added, “I have every bit of confidence in the skills of Jay behind the wheel. Growing up 45 minutes from the Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 is an important part of my racing history. Participating in this year’s race with Jay and Sam through Team One Cure, we will be making a difference in both the 500 and the race against cancer.”

SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt said, “We are pleased to have Jay competing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports once again. Given our impressive winning record together in the past, we have high expectations for the 101st Indy 500. Jay is extremely talented in the car as well as being a great advocate for the Team One Cure initiative.”

Howard, the 36-year-old Englishman, won the 2006 Indy Lights title for Schmidt but had a bit of a roller coaster career in IndyCar over parts of three official years (2008, 2010, 2011) and two years where he was supposed to drive but didn’t (2012, 2015).

Despite being hired by Roth Racing in 2008, he was unceremoniously dispatched prior to that year’s Indianapolis 500, replaced by John Andretti, and made only one more start later that year.

A comeback occurred with Sarah Fisher Racing in a second car in 2010, also part-time, although he missed the field that year, and then was not retained into 2011.

In a jointly entered RLL/Schmidt Honda, Howard finally made his Indianapolis 500 race debut in 2011, qualifying 20th and finishing 30th after an incident. He made two other race appearances that year, at the dual Texas race and the ultimately canceled Las Vegas finale.

Two other would-be comebacks stopped before they even had a chance to begin. Howard was Michael Shank’s driver choice for 2012 but Shank was unable to secure an engine lease. Then after being announced for a second Bryan Herta Autosport car in 2015, a sponsor pulled out.

This gives Howard a quirky career stat line of 12 race starts, one race he started that doesn’t count in the record books, four other races where he was entered but didn’t start the race and two races he was announced but the car didn’t show up to drive.

His best career start (13th) came in a race where there was no qualifying, instead just a blind draw (Texas race two, 2011); his best career qualifying effort (14th) came in a race where the field was split (Motegi 2008, where IRL raced at Japan and Champ Car signed off at Long Beach on the same weekend), and his best finish (13th) he’s achieved twice (Motegi, and Kansas the following week with a full field).

All of this background makes Howard’s latest comeback all the more interesting, especially as he’s never driven the new base Dallara DW12 chassis and has been out of full-time driving for six years, instead having focused on coaching and go-karting in the interim.

Howard joins the other two confirmed entries of James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin, and is SPM’s fifth different third driver in as many years (Katherine Legge, Jacques Villeneuve, Conor Daly and Oriol Servia since 2013).

Tony Stewart Foundation’s Team One Cure to support Indy 500 entry

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There’s always been the lingering question that once Tony Stewart retired from full-time NASCAR driving wondering whether he’d be back at the Indianapolis 500, as he raced it five times from 1996 through 2001.

Indeed he is for 2017, although not as a driver.

Stewart’s newly launched Team One Cure, part of The Tony Stewart Foundation, will have an entry in this year’s 101st running of the race, in what will be Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ No. 77 entry. SPM will have Honda aero kits and engines this season.

This confirms SPM’s third car in the race for a fifth year running; previous third drivers have been Katherine Legge (2013), Jacques Villeneuve (2014), Conor Daly (2015) and Oriol Servia (2016). This year’s driver will be revealed soon.

Team One Cure follows on from Stewart’s philanthropic work, which has been known within some racing circles but not a widespread audience.

Stewart has always been an advocate for children and animals, especially those facing serious illness. When introduced to the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center (FACC) and how it is developing cutting edge cancer treatments for people and pets, Tony was moved to action. To create awareness, enthusiasm and understanding of the FACC and their partners in comparative oncology, Team One Cure was launched.

“We learned that with the One Cure program, cancer treatment breakthroughs are happening through collaboration between scientists and doctors working with both people and pets,” Stewart said in a release. “It perfectly fits with my foundation’s missions to help children and animals. Sam Schmidt represents the very best in an injured racer overcoming adversity, plus we share the passion to win at IMS.”

Schmidt, team co-owner, added, “Very pleased to be participating in the 101st Running of the Indy 500 with such a fantastic program as Team One Cure. Tony is the most generous guy I know in motorsports, and his charitable efforts on behalf of children and animals in need is unbelievable, so this is a perfect fit. With the team at Colorado State University making such huge strides in cancer research, this will truly be a cause we can get behind. That, combined with both of our extreme desires to win this race, should make for a really competitive entry.”

No mention was made of 2016 SPM partner Will Marotti within this release, via his Marotti Racing entry which was part of SPM’s No. 77 Honda last year. The Connecticut pastor recently released a video announcing his plans to return to the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which reveals a rendering of a “God Bless America” adorned No. 77 Honda, and asking viewers to go to his website for further information.

Before Tony Stewart was a NASCAR star, he was a dominating force in IndyCar

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Seemingly lost in Sunday’s career-ending Sprint Cup race for Tony Stewart was the fact that before he became a three-time Cup champion, Stewart was an IndyCar champion.

Stewart competed in the then-Indy Racing League for just two full-time seasons – winning the championship in 1997 and finished third in 1998.

Stewart competed in 26 total races in an Indy car, earning three wins, seven podium finishes and eight pole positions. He led nearly one-third (1,515) of the 4,375 laps he completed and had an average start of 4.8 and an average finish of 10.1.

His three career IndyCar wins came at Walt Disney World Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Pikes Peak Raceway.

While Stewart enjoyed his Indy career, there was a void that the Indiana native — who grew up 50 miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway — will always lament: never being able to win the race he coveted the most, the Indianapolis 500.

Sure, he won two Brickyard 400s at IMS, but it wasn’t the same as winning the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

His career record at Indianapolis:

* 1996 – started from the pole, finished 24th. Drove for team owner John Menard. Led 44 of 200 laps before engine problems caused his day to end prematurely on Lap 82. Named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year.

* 1997 – started in the middle of the front row, finished a career-best fifth. Drove for team owner John Menard. Led 64 of 200 laps.

* 1998 – started fourth, finished a career-worst 33rd. Drove for team owner John Menard. Led just one lap but had a quick exit, leaving after 22 laps due to engine problems.

* 1999 – started 24th, finished ninth for Tri-Star Motorsports. He did not lead any laps in this race.

* 2001 – in his final Indy 500 appearance — and the final IndyCar race of his career — Stewart started seventh and finished sixth for team owner Chip Ganassi. He led 13 of 200 laps.

Indianapolis 500 - Carb Day
Chip Ganassi

That run for Ganassi – which was the second and final time Stewart attempted the double of racing at Indianapolis in the afternoon and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 later that evening – is described in a story from IndyCar.com.

Among the highlights of that story was Ganassi’s recollection of Stewart racing for him that afternoon and finishing sixth, and then going on to finish third that evening at Charlotte, the first driver to ever complete the full 1,100-mile “double.”

Had Ganassi acted a few years sooner to forge ties with Stewart, he may have eventually had Smoke drive in NASCAR for him as well, rather than for Joe Gibbs before Stewart became co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.

“You know you get involved in this business and you meet people along the way and I’m just sorry we didn’t work harder to do more with him as a driver with our team,” Ganassi said of Stewart to IndyCar.com. “… It (was) 2001 and it just seems like it was a couple of years ago.”

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