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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As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.