Tony Stewart one race away from first winless season in NASCAR Sprint Cup career

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This may go overlooked on Sunday in the face of the Championship 4 finale to cap off the NASCAR season, but Tony Stewart is in a rare on-track position heading into Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

No, not only out of Chase contention as a driver. But also on the verge of a winless season in Sprint Cup, which would be his first in 16 years, and thus end an active 15-year-in-a-row streak of winning at least one race.

Obviously, circumstances have been different this year given what happened in August.

The return to the track hasn’t been easy, yet it’s racing that gives Stewart his fuel, his rush, his dedication to living.

From a purely statistical standpoint though on-track, it’s hard to argue 2014 has been a season to forget.

Stewart sits 25th in the points after starting 32 of 35 races, with three top-five finishes and seven top-10s, both of which will be career lows (previous lows of five and eight, respectively, occurred last year).

He spent the beginning of the year recovering from his leg injury suffered last year; NBCSN NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton noted at the start of the year on various NASCAR AMERICA shows that Stewart was not physically 100 percent.

The chemistry with new crew chief Chad Johnston hasn’t quite been there, either. It’s been a change after previous years working with others. Granted, a top-five at Martinsville a few weeks ago was a needed finish for him, and a step in the right direction.

Overall it’s unfortunate because Stewart, love him or hate him, has been one of NASCAR’s best drivers for nearly 20 years, including winning three Cup championships.

He’s just been through a two-year period where he’s not been in the news for reasons he’d like to be in the news, and that’s with winning races and contending for championships.

For both his sake and the sport’s sake, it would be great to see that on-form Stewart return in full force.

He still has one shot to end his winless drought. Homestead has traditionally been a good track for “Smoke” – he’s won three times (1999 and 2000 on the flat layout and 2011 on its current configuration) – and he’s clinched all three of his titles there (2002, 2005, 2011).

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.