Stewart: Racing is healing, and Dover was best run in a while

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In the midst of the news that has surrounded him the past seven weeks, it’s easy to forget Tony Stewart has been back on the track in his No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.

And while a 14th-place finish at Dover may not seem like much to celebrate, Stewart hailed it as one of his best races this season.

“It hasn’t been a stellar year,” Stewart admitted during his Monday morning media availability, his first full session since the accident that claimed Kevin Ward Jr.’s life on August 9.

“Yesterday was probably the best overall race start to finish, one of the best ones this year. I struggled on restarts, couldn’t get going. But after 10-15 laps we settled into being a top-five race car.

“We put a whole race together. It’s nothing to brag about. But we finally put together a consistent run.”

Asked by the AP’s Jenna Fryer whether Stewart raced better considering he was cleared of charges by the Ontario County District Attorney last week, Stewart said it likely didn’t matter.

“I really don’t know if it does or not,” he said. “At the track on Friday and Saturday, we struggled. Our qualifying was the best we’ve done at Dover in a while, but we struggled in practice and all day Saturday.

“Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and the engineers did a great job and I could tell right off the bat Sunday the car was quite a bit better. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Stewart admitted that he has struggled to get his mind back around racing, but still, getting back behind the wheel is therapeutic and like second nature.

“We’ve been racing since Atlanta but it hasn’t been business as usual,” he said, again bringing that “business as usual” line back into play. “It’s gonna be a healing processs. It makes you think about a lot of things other than driving race cars. Being back at the race track has helped me more than anything.”

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?