NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 25 Tony Stewart

3 Comments

Tony Stewart

Season finish: 25th

2014 Season Stats: 0 wins, 3 top-5, 7 top-10, 1 Pole.

What went right: From an overall standpoint, Stewart enjoyed his second championship in four seasons as a team co-owner when Kevin Harvick won the 2014 Sprint Cup crown. But as far as Stewart’s own performance, there were very few things that went right. He earned just one pole (Texas, spring) and his best season finishes were third (Bristol, spring), fifth the following week at Fontana, and fourth in the Chase race at Martinsville. One other positive, at least indirectly: Stewart’s pit crew was “traded” to Kevin Harvick’s team for the Chase, a key factor in Harvick’s winning the championship.

What went wrong: From a performance standpoint, Stewart suffered through the worst season of his Sprint Cup career. He started the season still not fully recovered from the devastating sprint car wreck he had in August 2013 that caused several fractures to his right leg. To his credit, Stewart fought through the pain and refused to get out of the race car during the early part of the 2014 season, even if he still wasn’t fully 100 percent. Then there were a number of un-Stewart-like statistics, including failing to win even one race in a season for the first time in his Cup career (which dates back to 1999). In fact, he had single-season career lows in wins (0), top-fives (just 3) and top-10s (7). He also had his second-lowest single-season lead-lap finishes (just 20), and had the worst finishing average per race (20.0) in a single season in his career. Stewart just didn’t drive like the Smoke we’ve known for 15 seasons. Of course, his season was also greatly impacted by the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, for which Stewart voluntarily sat out the three Sprint Cup races following the dirt track race tragedy in upstate New York in August.

2015 Prospectus: Crew chief Chad Johnston returns for a second season. With Tony having two additional recent surgeries on his right leg (fourth and fifth surgeries, respectively), he should hopefully be 100 percent by the time of the Daytona 500. As difficult as the last two seasons have been for Stewart, he’s not a quitter. He’ll work harder than he ever has, if that’s what it takes, to get back to the Smoke of old. In fact, we would not be surprised to see Stewart become Comeback Driver of the Year in 2015. Of course, if he has a third straight season of difficulty, one has to wonder where he’ll go from there. We still think Stewart has several more race wins and perhaps at least one more championship in him. What better time to do so than in 2015, one year after his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick, did so.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
0 Comments

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”