What’s next for Tony Stewart, the person?

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Tony Stewart’s personal future is a serious question mark after the accident Saturday night where driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

His livelihood outside of his usual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series commitments is at stake, because he’s been through a seriously rough stretch of accidents over the last year and a half in dirt track races.

Prior to Saturday night, there’s been a rash of accidents that have swept over Stewart like a tidal wave in the last year and a half.

Last year, he was in a 15-car pileup in New York, flipped his car in Canada and then broke his leg in Iowa, the latter of which sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

And then here’s what happened on Saturday night: Stewart and Ward were racing for position, and as Stewart’s car slid up the road, that contacted Ward and sent the young 20-year-old driver into a spin.

Ward got out of his car, walked down a hot track, and then was contacted by Stewart as he came around the corner on a dimly lit track. The fact the track wasn’t well lit, Ward was in a dark firesuit and dark helmet, and vision out the right side of sprint cars is notoriously bad (limited visibility) all conspired to create a perfect storm of circumstances and ultimately, cost Ward his life.

Stewart has cooperated with law authorities to this point as the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department continues its investigation; the Sheriff said Sunday there was no criminal intent at this time.

Stewart has released a statement, pulled out of driving in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, and drivers have reacted, including fellow Cup champion Dale Jarrett, now a TV analyst for ESPN.

While the legal investigation is still ongoing (here is a link to the court case), how Stewart recovers from this personally will be interesting to witness.

Others (USA Today/NBCSN’s Nate RyanAP’s Jenna FryerSporting News’ Bob Pockrass, veteran Monte Dutton to name but a few) have also noted this, but Stewart and dirt track racing are blood brothers. It’s in his DNA, and it’s something you can’t take out of him, no matter how many times he gets into an accident.

Without a family of his own, Stewart’s passion, hobby and life outside the Cup circuit is, well, the dirt tracks. From those I spoke to over the weekend with knowledge of how Stewart operates, this fuels him and makes him tick.

He derives great enjoyment from these races – it fuels his fire even if it’s coming as a moonlighting guest driver.

His presence can sell more tickets. Local short track races are generally exciting as they are and when a megastar of Stewart’s magnitude joins the show, that only enhances the fan experience.

But the fan experience has been affected as a result of what happened Saturday night. Those who drove in that race, watched from the pits or watched from the stands will have a tough time getting over what they saw.

So too has Stewart, who despite his gruff temperament and legendary temper, still has a big heart – something that’s being written a lot now in the wake of this tragedy – but those who know him know this could not have been done with ill intent.

As it is, Stewart will likely have a long road to recover mentally from what’s happened this weekend.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”