Tony Stewart trying to find that feeling again

7 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When one’s body and mind have been wracked so deeply, can that person return to how things used to be?

Tony Stewart will try.

A sprint car crash two years ago brands his gait, and last year’s sprint car tragedy tortures his spirit. For as much as Stewart wants to look ahead, those moments will remain with him forever.

Still, there’s a time when Stewart must look ahead.

“When they counted down the end of 2014, I was never so happy to see that number go off the calendar,’’ Stewart said. “I’m ready to put the last two years behind me and never look back. I’m going back to being me again.’’

Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s former crew chief, longtime friend and the competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, says he already notices a difference in the 43-year-old racer.

“I see him refreshed,’’ Zipadelli said. “I’ve seen him joke like I haven’t seen in two years. I know for a fact he’s ready to go out and go race. That’s all that man has. That’s what he lives for. So if anybody can do it, if anybody is going to find that inner drive to do it, it’s going to be Tony.’’

Does that mean the three-time champion can claim another title? Or win his first Daytona 500? Or win other races?

He enters this season searching for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in 20 months. Stewart managed a top-10 finish in 21.1 percent of his starts last year – a career-worst percentage. He has failed to finish in the top 10 in at least half his starts each of the past three years and four of the last five.

Those are only part of the questions he faces. The bigger questions for many are how he moves on from the incidents he’s had the past two years.

Stewart was contending for a Chase position in 2013 when he severely broke his right leg in a sprint car crash Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He missed the remaining 15 Cup races. He had surgery on the leg in December – his fourth since the crash. Stewart has one final surgery scheduled on the leg after this season to remove a titanium rod.

Stewart was 19th in points last season when he went to compete in a sprint car event Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. After Kevin Ward Jr. bounced off the wall while racing Stewart for position, Ward exited his car and walked down the dirt track. Stewart’s car struck Ward, who died from the injuries. A grand jury refused to indict Stewart in Ward’s death. Stewart missed three races. After his return, he managed one top-10 finish in the final 12 Cup races.

“How could it not change you?’’ teammate Kevin Harvick said of what Stewart experienced the past two years. “You go from a broken leg to a situation you don’t ever want to see anybody have to deal with. I can’t relate to how that affects you mentally. Knowing the type person he is and how much he cares about everything else and having to deal with the situation that he dealt with last time, I know, just looking at him, you could tell it wasn’t right. He wasn’t in a good frame of mind.’’

Harvick also sees the change this year in Stewart, noting that his close friend is “in a good spot.’’

Still, there’s much work for Stewart on the track this season. He never could get the right balance in his car. What worked for Harvick didn’t work as well for Stewart. Instead, Stewart fought a tight race car that wouldn’t obey his commands throughout the season.

“I tried everything I knew last year and I couldn’t make a difference,’’ said Stewart, who has 48 career Cup victories to rank 13th on the all-time series wins list.

The offseason, Stewart said, provided the break the team needed to find what ailed the car. As he enters this year, Stewart was asked if he feels as if he has anything to prove.

“I don’t feel that I have to prove anything to anybody,’’ he said. “It’s more what I want to do, not what I feel I have to show people I can do. I want to be winning races again.’’

 

IndyCar entry lists for Harvest GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

IndyCar entry lists Indianapolis
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There are 25 drivers on the NTT IndyCar Series entry lists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a few new yet familiar faces for the Oct. 2-3 race weekend.

Four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais will make his season debut in the No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet (shifting Dalton Kellett to the No. 41) with AJ Foyt Racing, which he is joining full time next season. James Hinchcliffe, who had run three races with Andretti Autosport, will return in place of Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda. Helio Castroneves will drive Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 Dallara-Chevy for Oliver Askew, who is out with concussion-like symptoms.

Sage Karam, who has two IndyCar starts this year at IMS (the road course on July 4 and the Indy 500 on Aug. 23), also will return to the series in Dreyer & Reinbold’s No. 24 Dallara-Chevrolet.

HARVEST GP ENTRY LISTS: Friday l Saturday

Friday and Saturday of the Harvest GP presented by GMR will mark the second and third races this season on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. While the July 4 race on the circuit was 80 laps, Friday’s distance is 85 laps, and Saturday will be a 75-lap event.

Championship leader Scott Dixon led 26 of 80 laps to win the July 4 race at the IMS road course. With three races remaining in the series, the five-time series champion enters with a 72-point lead on Josef Newgarden.

Click here to see who’s on the IndyCar entry lists in Race 1 and in Race 2 for the Harvest GP presented by GMR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.


START TIMES AND TV INFO FOR INDYCAR AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY ROAD COURSE (all times ET):

Thursday

IndyCar NTT Series practice: 2:25-3:40 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying, Race 1: 6:20 p.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

Friday

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 1: 3:30 p.m. (green flag, 5 p.m.), USA Network, NBC Sports Gold

Saturday

—IndyCar qualifying: 10:20 a.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 2: 2:30 p.m (green flag, 2:31 p.m.)., NBC, NBC Sports Gold