Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tony Stewart’s return to racing: ‘I’m sure that’s where he wants to be’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the chorus of voices welcoming Tony Stewart back to racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Shortly after Kevin Harvick won Saturday night’s Great Clips 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in a JR Motorsports car, Earnhardt spoke in a subdued voice about Stewart and all that has happened since the Aug. 9 incident that claimed the life of young sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.

“I just can’t imagine what the situation must be like,” Earnhardt said, “so it’s very difficult for me to comment on it or have an opinion about it because it’s just so overwhelming and so unthinkable.

“To be in his shoes, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to try to come back or try to show up and try to compete.”

But there’s no question Earnhardt is happy to see his good friend back.

“I’m glad he’s back and it’s fun seeing him back out in the car in practice,” Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt echoed comments made Friday from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon about Stewart’s return.

“One of the things that I did read was Jeff’s comments that Tony belongs at the track,” Earnhardt said. “I can only imagine that being here and being back to work and talking about race cars and working on his car and going through the process of the weekend is probably the best medicine.”

Earnhardt hopes to have an in-depth conversation with Stewart when the time is right, but for now is maintaining a distance and respecting Stewart’s space.

“I saw some quotes from his press conference where he said he’d be affected by this for the rest of his life and he’ll have to carry that to the end,” Earnhardt said. “But, I like him as a competitor and we’ve been friends for many, many years.

“I’m glad he’s back and hopefully he can get back into the groove and get back into the racetrack, have some success and get back to running his race team and doing the things that he thinks he needs to do.

“It’s a hard situation for everybody, the whole sport. But coming back to the racetrack, that’s where I want to be and I’m sure that’s where he wants to be.”

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Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

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Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

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