Stewart getting more anxious to return to racing

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Bit by bit, injured three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart is getting better. And with every step forward in progress, his need to get back in the car grows.

There’s not much time between now and the Daytona 500 in February, where Stewart is expected to return after suffering a season-ending leg injury in a sprint car accident back in August. Stewart has endured multiple surgeries on that broken right leg, but solid work in therapy has him still on line to come back at The Great American Race.

“It feels really good, actually,” Stewart told Ben Smith of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette on Friday. “I’d say the last three weeks in particular in therapy we’re really making big gains. So I’m pretty happy with it.”

Stewart was in Fort Wayne to support his team’s bid for victory in this weekend’s 16th Annual Rumble in Fort Wayne, a top indoor gathering for midget car racers. Rumble organizers honored him by dubbing the event “A Salute to Tony Stewart” in recognition of his hard work furthering the cause of short-track racing.

No doubt Stewart appreciated the gesture on the part of the organizers. And no doubt Stewart would have preferred to actually drive in the race as opposed to sitting on the sidelines as a team owner.

“You know, when I first got hurt, I was hurt bad enough that it didn’t really feel like that I had that sense that I was missing it,” Stewart told the Journal Gazette. “But now that I’m closer to being healed and ready to go, the more anxious I am to be in the car.

“But, I’ve got a good friend of mine that’ s going to drive the car, and you know, to me, I still get to go. I still get to compete as a car owner. So I m still looking forward to it and, come February, to getting back in the [Sprint Cup car] again.”

In the end, Stewart’s duo of drivers, Mike Fedorcak and Lou Cicconi, couldn’t quite earn the checkered flag. Fedorcak finished second on Saturday in the midget feature to 15-year-old Justin Peck, who became the youngest driver ever to win in the Rumble.

Former USAC national midget champ Russ Gamester won Friday night’s feature to become the Rumble’s oldest ever winner at 48 years old. He was also in contention to win Saturday but a late engine failure knocked him back to ninth at the finish.

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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