In the nearly 600 races Tony Stewart has started plus the upcoming two decades’ worth of races many expect Ty Dillon will run in his budding racing career, none will likely feature a driver lineup as unique as that of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in Sunday’s GEICO 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Stewart will practice and start the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet in Sunday’s race. The three-time champion will drive until the first caution, when he’ll pull down pit lane and climb out of the car, allowing Dillon to race the remainder of the restrictor-plate race.
The move comes as a way for Stewart to collect driver points in a bid to earn a berth in NASCAR’s 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs while playing it safe with his healing vertebra. Stewart missed the first eight races of the season after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. The prescribed rehabilitation regimen instituted by his doctors following a March 9 evaluation proved successful, allowing the three-time series champion to return last weekend at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, where he finished 19th.
“We’ll start the Talladega race to get the points but, understanding the style of racing and the higher potential of getting involved in an incident, we thought it best to minimize the amount of time I’m in the car,” said three-time-champion Stewart, who announced last year he would retire after the 2016 season. I’ll return full-time at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can my final year of Sprint Cup.”
Last week, NASCAR granted Stewart a medical waiver that made him eligible for the Chase and compete for the series championship. To make the Chase, Stewart will have to race his way in by winning at least once and ending NASCAR’s 26-race regular season in the top 30 in driver points. Right now, Matt Dibenedetto is in 30th place with 123 points. Stewart is 40th with 22 points. Last year, Kyle Busch was 179 points out of 30th place when he got back in the cockpit after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season. Busch went on to win the championship.
Stewart is wasting no time getting up to speed in the No. 14. After driving all three days at Richmond, he and the No. 14 team will participate in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday and Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Dillon, who has split substitute driving duties this year with Brian Vickers, will make his first appearance in a Sprint Cup car at Talladega, but he brings an impressive record of success at the 2.66-mile track in other series. In six NASCAR Xfinity, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA races at Talladega, Dillon has led 131 laps, including a lap in each. Dillon, whose brother Austin will compete in the race on Sunday, won the Truck Series pole in 2012. He also won the ARCA race from the pole in 2011.
Dillon has impressed driving the No. 14 in 2016. He raced for eighth with less than 50 laps remaining at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway April 17 before a late-race accident ruined his bid for a top-10 finish. He finished 17th and 15th in the Atlanta and Phoenix races. He races fulltime in the Xfinity Series for his grandfather’s Richard Childress Racing team and is third in the driver points standings, just 19 points out of first. Dillon will perform double duty this weekend racing in the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity Series race Saturday and the GEICO 500 on Sunday.