Dale Jarrett talks with Tony Stewart: ‘He made the right decision’ not to race Sunday

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As can be imagined in a situation such as Saturday night’s tragedy at Canandaigua Speedway in upstate New York that claimed the life of young race car driver Kevin Ward Jr., Tony Stewart did not choose to speak with the general media Sunday morning at Watkins Glen International.

But Stewart did speak privately to at least one high-profile member of the media – who also happens to be a former driver/champion and a NASCAR Hall of Famer – but more as friend-to-friend than athlete-to-reporter.

That was ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett.

To his credit, Jarrett put his brief meeting with Stewart in context during the network’s pre-race show about an hour before the green flag dropped for the Cheez-It 355 at WGI.

Said Jarrett:

“I did speak to Tony as a friend. My conversation with Tony was just to let him know that he had many friends like myself and an entire community that was thinking about Tony, he’s in our thoughts and prayers, and we all love and support him.

“We all go through challenges in our life. We don’t know sometime why these challenges are put in front of us and face us, but that he had all of us to lean on in a most difficult time.

“I’m fortunate to call Tony Stewart a good friend, and I was honored that he would take a little bit of time to be there, and I could be there with him this morning, just as a friend, wanting to let him know I am here if there is anything I can do.

“It was basically Tony’s decision that he did that (decided not to race in Sunday’s event at The Glen). After you think about things, that you realize that this is the right thing.

“That was the last thing I told Tony – other than that I loved him like a brother – that he made the right decision. He didn’t need my reassurance, he knew that he made the right decision, and it was the only decision. And Tony Stewart is that type of person and showed that once again.”

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IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway

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The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):


NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)