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.
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”