No relief driver planned for Tony Stewart during Speedweeks

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Even though he’s publicly admitted his leg isn’t completely healed from last August’s horrific sprint car crash, Tony Stewart still plans to go it alone for this weekend’s practice sessions, Sprint Unlimited and qualifying, as well as the Feb. 23 season-opening Daytona 500.

In other words, the three-time Cup champ will not have a relief driver standing by, period.

Stewart intends on fully taking part in all of the typical Speedweeks activities that Cup drivers participate in, including several practice sessions, Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited, Sunday’s qualifying, the Budweiser Duel 150s on Feb. 20 and ultimately, the actual 500 race itself.

“I’ve had to sit through the end of last season and the whole off-season, so I feel like I could get in a car right now and go race,” Stewart said in a Stewart-Haas Racing press release. “So, there isn’t any anxiety as far as what’s going to happen, it’s more about being anxious to get started and get going again. I think that probably will override any pain that may exist.”

Speculation had veteran driver Mark Martin, who filled in for most of the 15 Sprint Cup races Stewart missed after being sidelined last season, would be at the ready if Stewart could not complete the 500 or any other Speedweeks events.

That won’t be the case, apparently, even though Martin is expected to be on hand at Daytona International Speedway in his new role as a driving coach for Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick.

Martin tested for Stewart to shake down the No. 14 Chevrolet last month in preparation for Speedweeks.

Stewart suffered the worst crash of his multi-series racing career while competing in a sprint car race early last August 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway. He sustained several injuries, including having his leg broken in two places when a piece of the sprint car’s suspension came through the floorboard and shattered his leg.

He subsequently went through three surgeries, including having a rod inserted in the injured leg.

“Fortunately, we’re not in a situation where I’ve got to do 100-yard sprints,” Stewart said. “If we had to do that, we’d be in a lot different situation. I’ll still have to deal with G-forces, vibrations and all of the things that a race car driver navigates.

“We obviously won’t know exactly how the leg will respond and the amount of pain there may be until I’m in the car for the practice session before the Sprint Unlimited. Those are variables we still don’t know yet, but the stuff that we’re doing in therapy, it’s very encouraging.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.