Tony Stewart finally looks like the Smoke of old at Martinsville

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On a track that is the oldest in NASCAR, Tony Stewart went vintage and retro in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Driving perhaps the best race he’s had in a very difficult season, Stewart dug deep to look like the Smoke of old, finishing fourth, tying his best performance – and only his third top-five showing – of the season. In 31 career starts at the half-mile bullring, Stewart now has three wins, 10 top-five and 16 top-1o finishes in his Cup career.

Stewart came up short again of extending his own personal record of at least one win in the last 16 seasons, but with the way he drove Sunday, it bodes well for him still to take the checkered flag at Texas (two career wins), Phoenix (one) or Homestead (three wins).

The biggest key for Stewart’s strong finish was the decision to follow the race leaders – including eventual winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and runner-up Jeff Gordon onto pit road with less than 10 laps to go.

Each driver took four tires and a splash of fuel. It worked out best for Junior and Gordon, but Stewart has nothing to be ashamed of.

“If we had to do that 100 times over, we would have done the same thing,” Stewart told ESPN. “We had nothing to lose. It was worth the gamble.

“Where we were at in fifth, you didn’t know what was going to happen, who would have taken two tires, something could have happened on the pit stop, a lot of variables could have gone wrong there.

“I’d rather have taken the chance and fight at the end of that. We still ended up a spot better than we were when that caution came out.”

Stewart has gone through the two most challenging seasons of his career.

In 2013, his season was cut short after 21 of the scheduled 36 races when he suffered a severely broken leg in a sprint car wreck.

In 2014, Stewart was already having a less than normal season when he was involved in the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, prompting him to miss three races out of respect to the late racer.

But even when he came back for the Labor Day race at Atlanta, Stewart still continued to struggle.

In the eight races since he returned following the Ward tragedy, Stewart finished 41 (Atlanta), 15 (Richmond), 18 (Chicago), 30 (Loudon), 14 (Dover), 17 (Kansas), 21 (Charlotte) and 34 (Talladega).

But Sunday at a track Stewart used to hate early in his career, he finally broke through with his best showing since finishing fifth at Fontana in the fifth race of the season, and tying his best outing of fourth, the week before that at Bristol.

Stewart looked substantially relieved after Sunday’s race, and while he did the obligatory thanking to his crew for its hard work and sticking with him, Stewart also gave credit to those who also stick with him race in and race out, from one season to the next.

“Our fans, they have been plowing a tough road for the last 18 months,” Stewart said. “This top-five is for the fans.”

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NTT re-signs as IndyCar title sponsor in multiyear deal starting with the 2024 season

James Black/Penske Entertainment

The IndyCar Series has re-signed NTT as its title sponsor in a multiyear agreement starting in 2024.

NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan, became the series’ title sponsor before the 2019 season after starting as a sponsor of the No. 10 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

NTT Data (a subsidiary of parent company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.) will remain the official technology partner of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Brickyard weekend.

With the extension, an IndyCar spokesman said NTT would become the second-longest title sponsor in series history. The longest title sponsor was PPG from 1980-97 (under the CART sanction of the Champ Car Series).

NTT replaced Verizon, which was IndyCar’s title sponsor from 2014-18 after IZOD from 2010-13.

“NTT is an excellent partner across our enterprise with strong expertise and a deep commitment to our sport,” Penske Corp. chairman and IndyCar owner Roger Penske said in a release. “From Smart Venue technology at the Racing Capital of the World to the reimagined Series mobile application, NTT is transforming the fan experience in new and innovative ways. We look forward to a bright future together.”

NTT has used artificial intelligence-enabled optical detection technology at IMS to provide information to the track’s operations and security teams, helping improve fan traffic flow and safety, the track said.

“IndyCar is a great partner for NTT Data because of our shared commitment to driving innovation, increasing sustainability and delivering amazing experiences,” NTT Data CEO Kaz Nishihata said in a release. “We also appreciate how IndyCar is so diverse, with drivers from 15 different countries, and races that range from short ovals and superspeedways to road and street courses. It’s both an incredible sport and a wonderful example for our world.”

NTT also has been instrumental in helping redesign the IndyCar app and providing more race and driver data for use in NBC Sports’ broadcasts by utilizing 140 data points from every car in the field.

“NTT is fully invested in the development and growth of our sport and has already established a terrific track record in our industry with problem-solving capabilities and access to top talent and tools,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said.

Said NTT Data Services CEO Bob Pryor: “We’re thrilled to continue our collaborations that enhance and expand the fan experience for motorsports and serve as proof points for data analytics, AI, and other innovative digital technologies. For more than a century, this racing series has pioneered innovations making driving safer for everyone, and by continuing this relationship, we will accelerate the pace of innovations and new technologies, particularly related to sustainability that ultimately can benefit organizations, communities and individuals around the world.”

Starting as a Japanese telephone company, NTT grew into a $100 billion-plus tech services giant with U.S. operations based in Plano, Texas.