Tony Stewart to return to race at Atlanta this weekend

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After missing the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup races following the tragic accident that claimed the life of 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. at an upstate New York dirt track, NASCAR star Tony Stewart will return to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing officials announced that development at 4:30 pm ET in a distributed media release. There were no comments from Stewart in the media release.

NASCAR officials subsequently confirmed the news.

“Tony Stewart has received all necessary clearances required to return to all racing activities, and therefore is eligible to compete this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “NASCAR has remained in constant contact with his race team, and we will stay very close to this situation as Stewart returns to competition.”

Stewart will hold a press conference at 1 pm ET at the AMS infield media center where he is expected to discuss his return and all of the things he has gone through since Ward was killed in an August 9 dirt track race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

Stewart will be joined in the press conference by SHR executive vice president Brett Frood.

MORECould Tony Stewart return to race this weekend at Atlanta?

NASCAR president Mike Helton will also hold a press conference one hour after Stewart’s at 2 pm ET, also in the AMS Media Center. The sanctioning body said in a media release Thursday afternoon that it would have no further comment until Helton’s media session.

The official report on the Ward tragedy has yet to be released by Ontario County (N.Y.) sheriff’s investigators, although that is expected to occur soon, perhaps as early as Friday.

Stewart has long and deep ties to Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has been one of his more successful racetracks. In 26 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile, high-speed AMS, Stewart has three wins, 10 top-5 and 15 top-10 finishes.

While NASCAR rules for the expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup require drivers to have qualified for all 26 pre-Chase races and be in the top-30 in points, NASCAR.com reported Thursday afternoon that Stewart, who is 26th in points, could potentially still make the upcoming Chase. About the only way he could do so, though, would be to win at Atlanta or the final pre-Chase race next Saturday at Richmond.

He would also have to petition for and receive a waiver from NASCAR officials, provided he remains in the top 30 in points.

Sunday’s Sprint Cup race will be the first for Stewart since Aug. 3 at Pocono Raceway.

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”