On the morning after the sprint car crash that involved Tony Stewart and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli said it would remain “business as usual” for Stewart’s No. 14 team in that afternoon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
The “business as usual” line seemed to resonate with some members of the media, who believed that there never should’ve been any question about Stewart not participating at the Glen.
In his first interview since a grand jury decided not to charge him in the fatal crash at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, Stewart touched upon how he handled the immediate aftermath.
He indeed traveled to Watkins Glen to prepare for the Cup race and arrived at his motorhome around 2 a.m. local time.
According to the AP’s Jenna Fryer, Stewart believes he was in shock at the time and while he had told his team that he would race, he woke up the next morning and realized he wasn’t up for it in any way.
“You race hurt, you race sick, and that’s the way racers have always been,” he said. “You say you can go do what you need to do, and then it becomes very clear that you can’t.”
With that, arrangements were quickly made to shuttle Smith up to Watkins Glen and race in Stewart’s absence.
That Sunday morning, Zipadelli told reporters that Stewart “feels strongly that this is the right thing to do”; Smith finished 37th in the race after being caught in a late incident.
Racked by grief and sorrow, Stewart did not compete in the next two Cup races at Michigan and Bristol either. Sprint Cup veteran and NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton drove for him in each of those outings. Eventually, Stewart returned to action at Atlanta late last month.
Racing through tragedy is a part of the sport’s culture, for better or for worse. It’s how these brave competitors choose to cope in such situations: Not forgetting, but getting on with the business at hand.
Stewart is as “racer” as they get. To recognize that he needed to step out of the cockpit tells you how much the events of Aug. 9 affected him. Certainly, it was the right thing to do.
Another crash while leading at Seattle dropped Chase Sexton from the top of the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings while solid performances by Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac allow them to climb the chart and threaten to make this a two-rider battle with six rounds remaining in the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season.
During the race, Webb knew he had ground to make up. Riding behind both Tomac and Sexton early in the Main, he was as far back as fifth on Lap 7 at Seattle. That position would cost him the red plate and give away the advantage he began to build with his first win of the season in Tampa. Sexton is often at his best as he battles from the back and he methodically worked his way through the field. At the end of the feature, he was nearly five seconds off Tomac’s pace, but during the past 45 days, he holds the advantage. A resurgent Tomac that could erase that advantage quickly though.
Tomac struggled in Indianapolis with a neck strain. That contributed to his worst performance of 2023 and his second result outside the top five. He finished third in Detroit two weeks ago, but it was a distant third after finishing off the podium in his heat during that round. In Seattle, it appeared the same thing might happen when Tomac finished third in the prelim behind his two principal competitors Webb and Sexton. The Main was a different story.
Tomac dropped to fourth in the opening laps behind both of his rivals early in the race, but he got around Webb on Lap 2 and kept charging. When Sexton fell to the ground on Lap 11 and dropped to fourth, Tomac was in position to strike. He scored his sixth win of the season to tie James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list. He now shares the red plate with Webb as the rounds wind down.
Sexton has the speed, but he lacks the seasoning of Webb and Tomac. He’s pressing hard on every lap and that has bitten him several times this year. Sexton’s mistakes are costing him with a 10th-place finish at Indy, the loss of seven points at Detroit and a fifth in Seattle as the riders he’s battling stood on the podium. No one seriously questions Sexton’s talent or speed, but ultimately the results are what counts.
Justin Barcia is hitting his stride. He advances two positions this week after scoring his fourth consecutive top-five and second podium in that span of races. Barcia finished between sixth and eighth in five consecutive rounds from Anaheim 2 through Arlington, but he’s mostly avoided controversy and that puts him fourth in this week’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.
Jason Anderson had a solid performance in Seattle, but with a fifth-place finish in his heat and fourth in the Main he just keeps losing a little ground to the leaders. The biggest impact to his standing in the NBC Power Rankings is a 10th-place finish in Indianapolis that will take a while to age out of the 45-day formula. He’s tied for fourth in the championship points with Ken Roczen, who sits sixth in the rankings below. It’s important to be the rider “best in class” with Webb, Tomac and Sexton stealing the show.
The 250 West riders were back in action in Seattle and that gave Jett Lawrence the opportunity to break out of a tie with his brother Hunter Lawrence on the all-time wins list. It also provided Jett the opportunity to take back the top spot in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.
Jett has stood on the podium in every race this year with the exception of the second Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2 and that level of perfection gives him bragging rights. Rest assured that while the two brothers have a bond that is unapparelled in motorsports, there is no one they would rather beat. Neither has been particularly successful in Triple Crown rounds this year, however, and Jett could lose his advantage in two weeks in Glendale, Arizona under that format.
A rivalry is developing between Lawrence and Cameron McAdoo. Tired of losing to the affable Australian, McAdoo pushed the envelope last week in Seattle. He crowded Lawrence in the whoops during their heat race and sent both to the ground. That frustration could bubble over with four rounds remaining. One thing is certain, when these two riders are in proximity on the track, the cameras will be aimed in their direction.
A little means a lot this season. Finishing second to Lawrence in four of five rounds, RJ Hampshire would be losing ground to the leader no matter what, but an 11th-place finish in the overall at Anaheim 2 places him eighth on the chart below behind two of the 250 West riders and five 250 East competitors.
In the mains, Levi Kitchen has been all over the board with a win, one more top-five, two results on the high side of the single digits and a crash-induced 21st at San Diego. He’s really shown his speed in the heats, however, with a perfect record of top-fives and a win.
Mitchell Oldenburg makes the top five list among West riders with a perfect record of top-10 finishes. He’s heading in the wrong direction, however, falling from ninth overall to 11th after finishing outside the top five in both his heat and the Main last week.
Jett Lawrence – W
Hunter Lawrence – E
Nate Thrasher – E
Cameron McAdoo – W
Haiden Deegan – E
Jeremy Martin – E
Jordon Smith – E
RJ Hampshire – W
Levi Kitchen – W
Max Anstie – E
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Max Vohland – W
Tom Vialle – E
Pierce Brown – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Chris Blose – E
Chance Hymas – E
Michael Mosiman – E
Stilez Robertson – W
Phil Nicoletti – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).