Tony Stewart starting two-car NHRA team with fiancée Leah Pruett as Top Fuel driver in 2022

Tony Stewart NHRA Pruett
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

CONCORD, North Carolina — Tony Stewart, who fell in love with NHRA while tagging along with fiancée Leah Pruett at her races the past two seasons, will be an official part of the sport in 2022. The NASCAR Hall of Fame driver will add two full-time NHRA entries to Tony Stewart Racing next season — a Top Fuel entry for Pruett and a Funny Car for Matt Hagan.

“It’s a very unique opportunity to control my own destiny with my almost-husband in a sport I’m absolutely passionate about,” Pruett told The Associated Press. “That’s an experience and opportunity that nobody would pass up, and I feel like I’ve been prepping my whole life for something like this — to apply all of my talents to something grand in partnership and alongside somebody sharing the same goals.”

Pruett and Hagan currently compete for Don Schumacher Racing, which on Wednesday announced that eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher will return to the team next year in a full-time entry and be paired with Pruett’s current crew chief.

Stewart followed with his announcement Thursday (at zMax Dragway near Charlotte Motor Speedway) and said the new NHRA team will operate alongside his sprint car teams in TSR’s existing 25,000-square-foot facility in Brownsburg, Indiana. Stewart, co-owner of the NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing, has won 27 owner championships in sprint car racing.

“It wasn’t until I met Leah and started going to races regularly, where I saw the strategy and the preparation firsthand, that I truly understood it,” Stewart, who went through a drag racing school last year, told the AP. “I’ve annoyed everyone in the paddock by asking so many questions, Don Schumacher included, and the more I learned about drag racing, I knew I didn’t want to be a spectator. I wanted to have a role and be all in.”

Pruett is in her 25th NHRA season, getting into drag racing as an 8-year-old in the junior league. She won the 2010 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series championship in the Nostalgia Funny Car class and has spent the last eight years advancing through Top Fuel.

The 33-year-old has done double duty for several years, also competing in the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown. She won the 2018 title for Schumacher.

Hagan, who has driven for Schumacher since 2009, is the three-time and reigning Funny Car champion. He currently leads the Funny Car standings with three races remaining in the season. He has 39 event victories.

“Don Schumacher has been a huge chapter in my racing career and we’ve won a whole lot of trophies and multiple championships together,” Hagan said. “This next chapter with Tony Stewart is one I’m excited for. I’m ready to go racing. I’m jumping into this new program with two feet and I’m confident in the package we’re bringing into the 2022 season with TSR.”

Because TSR will be a Schumacher customer, Stewart is expected to be a Dodge team in NHRA but he did not make a manufacturer announcement Thursday. Stewart-Haas Racing is a Ford team in NASCAR and Ford also competes in NHRA and has helped Stewart learn to drive a dragster since he became infatuated with the racing series.

Stewart and Pruett are set to be married next month and the three-time NASCAR champion said they’d forego a honeymoon to be ready for the NHRA season opener Feb. 17-20 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

Neither expects any tensions to form in this new chapter of their relationship, which Pruett clearly defined: “I am Tony Stewart Racing’s Top Fuel driver.”

“I think it will be fine, I mean, it’s not going to be flatline, there are going to be pulses in it because we have hearts and they beat,” Pruett said. “But we know this will work. Seeing things that have happened within other series and teams and tracks, I’ve been able to understand his thought process of solving problems and coming up with solutions.

“It made me be like, ‘That’s somebody I would love to work with, knowing where his head and heart are.’ Moving forward and working together, this isn’t jumping into something unknown, I’ve seen how he works firsthand.”

Stewart said he and Pruett have barely discussed how to manage their new working relationship.

“I have an understanding of what has to happen from the professional side, and the racing side is the racing side,” Stewart said. “You don’t bring the professional stuff to the personal side, and vice versa. Leah is a smart woman, she’s a smart businesswoman, and she understands that there has to be a difference between owner and driver, and I don’t think it creates an unhealthy environment for me to be the car owner and her the driver.

“I don’t feel like this is going to put us relationship-wise in any type of bind or predicament. We have no reason not to get along.”

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E

Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.