Recovering Stewart has different outlook on life, career

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From the daily little things to his career as a Sprint Cup team owner and driver, Tony Stewart has a new appreciation for just about everything these days.

After breaking his right leg in a season-ending sprint car accident in August, Stewart was forced to slow down his life. He expects to be back to competition in time for the 2014 Daytona 500, but in an interview with the Associated Press, the three-time Sprint Cup champion and former Indy Racing League champion indicates that he’s changed a bit during his recovery.

“I think it’s very easy to get caught up in everything that’s going on, just daily stuff being a distraction,” he said according to the AP’s Jenna Fryer. “When you have all that taken away from you, your daily activity becomes a lot more subtle and you appreciate it all a lot more.

“Not only Cup racing, but everything that I do each day, I think about it different than I did before.”

And just as his general outlook is different, so too is his race team, Stewart-Haas Racing, which is now in the midst of an expansion to four cars for himself, Danica Patrick, and newcomers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.

The team announced a major reorganization this past week that will see Stewart gain a new crew chief in ex-Michael Waltrip Racing member Chad Johnston. Additionally, Harvick will be guided by another ex-MWR man, Rodney Childers, and Busch will have race engineer-turned-crew chief Daniel Knost on his pit box.

All of those changes, as well as the drivers’ sometimes combustible personalities, will have many observers watching SHR to see if they can pull it together and compete for a championship in 2014. But according to Fryer, Stewart is optimistic that it can all work out.

“I think we have a lot more potential than we’ve ever had,” he said. “Kevin and I have a great relationship. I’ve not really worked with Kurt before. The first time talking to Kurt, it’s been great so far. Enjoy our conversations.

“To me, there is potential to take this organization to a level that it just hasn’t had the opportunity to be yet because we’ve been smaller.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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