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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IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:

Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change