Panic not setting in for Tony Stewart despite slow start

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A poor car sent Tony Stewart to a 33rd place finish last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which continued his problematic comeback from a broken leg that ended his 2013 season last summer.

The three-time Sprint Cup champion appears to be up against it again this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway after qualifying 37th – the worst out of the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing camp.

But while SHR struggles to get competitive across the board outside of Kevin Harvick (who won two weeks ago at Phoenix and was a threat in Vegas until his car suffered a wheel hub failure), the team’s vice president of competition – and Stewart’s former crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing – says that the sometimes combustible Stewart has not lost his cool over the early struggles.

“We’re just not giving him what he’s comfortable with,” Greg Zipadelli admitted to the AP’s Jenna Fryer. “We’re dragging the racetrack. It’s not little things. It’s way off. Last week [at Vegas] was a human error. He did an amazing job driving that car. I went down in the corner and watched it and most people would have wrecked that thing.

“We got it home and found some mechanical, human error. Shame on us. That stuff can’t happen at this level. It certainly shouldn’t happen to that caliber of driver. We owe him a lot more than that.”

It should also be noted that in addition to recovering from his leg injury, Stewart has also been trying to find the proper rhythm with a new crew chief in former Michael Waltrip Racing member Chad Johnston.

From Zipadelli’s standpoint, Stewart and Johnston have been improving in regards to communication and that eventually, a “platform” will be found to help Stewart return to contender status.

“It seems every week they start a little bit behind in trying to figure out what he wants,” Zipadelli added. “I feel like the group we have there will do a really good job once we find that platform that Tony wants.

“They’re very detailed, understanding and will be able to tune and be able to bring him the same thing week in and week out once they find it.”

But in the here and now, Stewart faces a tall task tomorrow as he aims to move from deep within the field. Bristol has not been one of his better tracks in recent years, with just one Top-5 finish (a second in the 2010 spring race) in his last 10 starts there.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”