Tony Stewart ‘competing’ in this year’s Chili Bowl — on a tractor

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If you’ve been to the Chili Bowl this week and saw a familiar-looking guy dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a ballcap, riding a tractor to help smooth over the racing surface, you have a good eye.

Three-time Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart, also an ardent sprint car racer, team owner and downright fan, has been in Tulsa this week in one of the most unusual roles of his three-decade racing career.

Instead of doing something more along the lines of maybe being the event’s grand marshal or an honorary official, Stewart is getting his hands dirty – and loving it.

Yep, that guy on the tractor is Stewart, one of four individuals along with Wes Smith, Martin Edwards and Brad “Gravel” Chandler that are charged with keeping the surface smooth and racey.

(Click here to see a local Tulsa TV interview with Stewart about his new job)

The foursome go out several times throughout the day’s racing to make sure things look good. And there’s no better judge than Stewart – it takes a racer to know what a racer wants, especially on a dirt track.

Stewart is no stranger to driving a tractor. He does it on a regular basis at the dirt track he owns in Rossburg, Ohio, namely, Eldora Speedway, arguably one of the best dirt short tracks in the country.

A two-time Chili Bowl winner (2002 and 2007), Stewart is unable to race in this year’s event because he’s still recovering from off-season surgery to clean up issues from the August 2013 sprint car wreck he had in Iowa.

But that doesn’t keep him from driving the tractor, which speeds around the track at the exhaustive speed of 10 mph.

Tops.

“There are four of us here (on the track crew) who can absolutely destroy this week,” Stewart told USA Today. “If one of us screws this thing up, we could have a bunch of people mad at us in one night. It’s like any other race track. The guys who prep it don’t get enough credit. This is just as competitive as working on the cars.

“The guy who runs the grader here — I’ve never seen anybody better. This track stuff is real soft. You can take a key and scratch through the top, it’s so soft. But to be as precise as he is with that blade — it’s sexy to watch.”

His task this week has made for some long days, but as he says in the following tweet, but Stewart couldn’t be happier.

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Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.