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.’’

 

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

0 Comments

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

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

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.