Friday, Oct 15

In the middle of 2008, Tony Stewart took a chance of a lifetime. Like an everyday citizen, taking a risk has its rewards, but also has many downfalls along the way. The grizzly veteran’s move to join Gene Haas and create a NASCAR super team has paid off.

Prior to Stewart joining Haas as a co-owner, the team had never won a race. The highest finishing driver that Haas had ever been a part of was Mike Bliss in 2005 and Jeff Green in 2006 each finishing 28th in the championship standings.

Once Stewart made the move to invest in the team, it instantly gave Haas CNC Racing more credibility. Over the span of the seven full-time seasons that the duo has been together as owners, it has resulted in great success. The organization has accumulated two championships, 30 wins, 136 top fives and 258 top-10 finishes to go along with 26 poles.

The team was running strong in the summer of 2013 before releasing Ryan Newman. However, in the next race, he went out and won the 2013 edition of the Brickyard 400 for the No. 39 team. But then, it was announced that the organization was adding 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch after he had a successful season with Furniture Row Racing. With an already announced Kevin Harvick coming over the driver lineup at SHR became one of the fiercest companies in all of motorsports.

As Stewart approaches his final season behind the wheel of a stock car, he personally has nothing to worry about as far as his career. He has had a dismal three seasons. But those years will not define the legacy he has left on the sport.

Stewart knows that his team needs to step up the game in order to have a successful season and make the Chase in his final year. He’s confident that with the addition of Mike Bugarewicz on top of the pit box, he has an opportunity for success. The new crew chief of the No. 14 car has led Harvick to two-consecutive winning seasons as the team engineer.

“I think we got two guys for sure that definitely have a great opportunity to race for a championship,” Stewart told Speedway Digest. “If you can win a race, you’ve got that opportunity. You don’t have to win every race to get to Homestead, Jeff proved that last year. I definitely feel like we have two drivers that have that opportunity to get to Homestead and be successful.”

The last two seasons have shaken Stewart’s confidence level. There is no reason why he can’t go out and be dominant like the old “Smoke.” The new aerodynamic package will be in his favor. It puts the car back into the drivers’ hands to an extent, and allows them to maneuver the car through traffic, something that he is magnificent at.

The three-time Sprint Cup champion is a living legend. No matter the outcome of his final year, he has had one of the most successful careers of any NASCAR driver, winning three championships and capturing 48 checkered flags. The Indiana native hasn’t forgotten how to drive, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he wins his first Daytona 500 in his final season behind the wheel of the No. 14.

“It’s a coin toss on what could happen with me,” Stewart said. “It could be the same, it could be worse, it could be better. If we make it any better I think it has potential to be a lot better. I’m excited about that opportunity on our side.”

If speed is any indication on the performance of SHR in the coming seasons, Harvick is one of the front-runners for the championship. Winning his first Cup title with the organization in 2014 and having the raw speed that he’s just never had before has elevated the No. 4 car as the one to beat week-in and week-out.

The team led by Rodney Childress is destined to do great things because there is simply no reason why they will struggle in 2016. Since the driver and crew chief combination began working together it has been the most successful combination in NASCAR.

Winning eight races in the last two seasons, and having a career-high 28 top-10 finishes just last season, Harvick is hitting on all eight cylinders as they approach the new year.

“I think as you look at the situations and scenarios that our team has had to deal with over the past couple of years with running well, kind of having that little bit of a target on your back, you learn to ignore a lot of those things,” Harvick said about winning the championship. “For us, it’s really about keeping your head down and trying to do the same things again.”

In his first two seasons with SHR, the California native has led more laps than he did in his previous 13 seasons with Richard Childress Racing. In 2015, he led a career-high and series-high 2,294 laps. But for him, that isn’t good enough. He wants more.

Harvick, 40, wants championships. He’s won every big race that there is to win. He’s a former Daytona 500 champion, Brickyard 400 champion, two-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500.

 “We expect to go out and be competitive and hopefully be in position to win races, work hard on a weekly basis to try and do that,” Harvick said. “Your goal is to be around when it gets to Homestead every year.”

After coming up just short of winning two-consecutive championships, it has motivated Harvick and company to be better than they were last season. Finishing second was the theme of the year last season with 13 second-place finishes. The one that hurt the most was finishing second in the championship race to Kyle Busch, resulting in a second-place finish in the point standings.

“We constantly try to improve,” he said. “I think for us one of the big areas to improve on was Homestead. We didn’t feel like we ran as well as we should the last two years in that particular race, and we’ve already been back there and tested. We’ve changed some internal parts and pieces.

“We’ve added a lot of people from within the engineering department. We’ve added some time in the aero department. As a company we’ve definitely strengthened our self in a lot of departments to try to improve on that.”

One thing that improved throughout the 2015 season was the relationship between Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson. The No. 41 team had two wins, 10 top fives and 21 top-10 finishes, the most he has had since 2009 and tied for a career-high.

After competing in his second full season for SHR, Busch’s chemistry with the start-up team has been tremendous. He has gone from working with an engineer in Daniel Knost, to now two straight seasons with veteran crew chief, Gibson.

If it weren’t for a rain shortened race in Phoenix, potentially, the team could have been racing for a championship and slotted his car in the championship battle with with Harvick.

No one has ever questioned the Las Vegas native’s talent. He has had to build chemistry with numerous different crew chiefs over his tenure in the Cup Series, but working with Gibson is a lot like working with another old-school crew chief in Jimmy Fennig. When that dominant duo worked together, they won the championship.

“There is no reason to think that we can’t be front-runners,” Busch said. “With the results that Kevin has posted, especially him, we have to do a better job on the No. 41 car to mimic that, but for sure.

“Tony Stewart is going to have a new drive within him. He’s got a new crew chief and what I’m seeing is more collaboration amongst the four Stewart-Haas cars. It’s better than I’ve ever seen it before. I would definitely give us the thumbs up on being a front runner.”

Including Danica Patrick, all four of the SHR drivers have different personalities, which have allowed the team to grow closer together. Now as they enter their third season of working together, SHR has established itself as one of the top teams in NASCAR. Getting equipment and engines from Hendrick Motorsports won’t ever hurt, and the alliance has given SHR the boost it needs to compete for wins.  

In 2015, two of the teams performed, Patrick improved and Stewart is motivated as he begins his final season as a driver. Patrick is coming off of arguably her best season as she had a 23.5 average finish the best of her young career, and finished in the top 10 twice, down from her total of three in 2014.

After this season, SHR will look a lot different as Clint Bowyer will come in and drive the No. 14 car in replacement of the legend, so this year could be the most pivotal, yet fun year in the eight years of existence for Stewart-Haas Racing.

 

After winning two races early in the year, Kevin Harvick has been on a winless streak for over six month. On Saturday evening, the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet drove back into Victory Lane at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Bank of America 500.

Leading a race-high 162 laps, Harvick was able to hold off Jeff Gordon on a restart with just a pair of laps remaining in the race to score his third victory of the season. With the triumph, he has now clinched his way into the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“Everybody on our team has just continued to build better race cars and we know that we’ve had the cars to run up front and lead laps and do the things that we need to do,” said Harvick on his win. “Things just haven’t gone right and we’ve made some mistakes; things haven’t gone right ore than not. Oh, we came here and tested thinking that this was going to be the hardest round to get through because of Talladega. There’s so much that you can’t control there. We wanted to try to control the things that we could control. We felt like Kansas and here (Charlotte) were playing to our strengths; and just see where it fell after that once we get to the next round.”

Following the race, Brad Keselowski had an on-track altercation with Denny Hamlin on the cool down lap. The No. 2 car finished 16th, and was racing tightly with Hamlin through the final laps. However, Hamlin brake checked Keselowski on the cool down lap. Simultaneously, he spun Hamlin in Turn 3 and then hit Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet as he was waiting in line to go into the garage on pit road.

“Through the whole sequence of events – I think the 20 car got in back of me on one of the restarts, it was just a racing deal and I wasn’t mad at him,” said Keselowski following the incident.  But when the last yellow came out he got the wave around and when he came by he swung at my car and tore the whole right-front off of it.  That gave us a big Chase hurt, which is unfortunate, and then for some reason after the race the 11 stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight. I don’t know what that was all about and he swung and hit at my car, so I figured if we’re gonna play car wars under yellow and after the race I’ll join too.”

“I rubbed into the 20 and I think he gassed up and ran into Tony, and don’t think Tony knew what was going on so he’s probably upset and he has every right to be,” he continued. “His car got tore up, but there was a whole lot of other stuff going on and I’m sure when he sees the whole situation he’ll understand.” 

Following a confrontation with Hamlin, Keselowski was walking back to his hauler when Matt Kenseth jumped on his back. The No. 20 and No. 2 crews began to have a brawl, but they were separated within a few seconds. However, several drivers are calling for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to have a fine for what they believe was a dangerous move in the garage area.

Jimmie Johnson was running inside of the top-10 after struggling early on in the 500-mile race. The No. 48 team finished 17th after pitting during the final caution. Leading up to Talladega, he unofficially sits 12th in points; 26 markers behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne for the final position to advance to the Eliminator Round. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished 20th after going a lap down with a shifter knob issue during the race. He was never able to get back on the lead lap and is tied with Johnson in the standings.

Kyle Larson was battling Harvick for the lead prior to the final round of green flag pit stops, but slipped back to the sixth position. The No. 42 Chevrolet led six laps prior to sliding into the wall, which made him drop back a few spots. Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammate Jamie McMurray came home in the third position after taking two tires on a late-race pit stop to gain track position and was able to contend for the win

Both Michael Waltrip Racing vehicles experienced engine issues on Saturday evening. Clint Bowyer’s engine let go on Lap 95 following a top-15 run. Meanwhile, Brian Vickers’ engine blew up with seven laps remaining in the race.

There were eight cautions that lasted 39 laps during the 334-lap event. During the race, there were 32 lead changes.  

Heading into Talladega, Joey Logano and Harvick are automatically locked into the next round of the Chase with victories. However, there are 10 other drivers vying for six remaining spots. Kyle Busch is the highest ranked driver without a victory, but is just 26 points ahead of Kenseth, who is the first driver on the outside looking in. Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr. are the four drivers that are currently outside of the top-eight. 

In a wild 500-mile event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne hoisted the trophy for the first time in over a year. Holding off Matt Kenseth during a green-white-checkered restart, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet took the victory as he sliced himself between the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of the No. 20 team and Denny Hamlin.

With the victory, Kahne has locked a spot inside of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after being on the verge of earning a position in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Now, all four Hendrick Motorsports car are locked inside of the Chase. The victory marks the 17th in his career, and his fifth triumph while racing for HMS.

“We were all over the place during the race but the guys stayed with me and worked hard,” Kahne said. “On those restarts - I didn’t know what would happen because I had great restarts all night and I struggle with restarts a lot.  That’s big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at and it worked really well tonight.”

 “Yeah, we are locked in and I hate it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me.  Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out.  But thankful that now at HMS I have been in all three years now.  We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again, thankful for that.”

Kenseth clinched a spot in the Chase based on points with a runner-up finish. Clint Bowyer is now on the outside looking in after finishing Sunday evening’s race in the 38th position due to a broken shifter. Greg Biffle currently holds the final spot in the Chase, and it would take a victory by a win-less driver inside of the top 30 to take that away from the Roush Fenway Racing driver.

Kevin Harvick was forced into the wall in front of Joey Logano after Paul Menard spun his tires on the final restart. Menard evidently took the middle lane on the outside of Danica Patrick; shoving the No. 4 car into the wall to end his evening after leading a race-high 195 laps. Harvick was the fastest car throughout the evening as his No. 4 car pulled out in front during each restart.

After Kahne led 23 laps while holding off Harvick, the caution came out with just two laps to go. Everyone on the lead lap came onto pit road, with Kenseth and Menard taking two tires. Kahne slipped to the fifth position, but was able to work his way back up after Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch tangled with a pair of laps left in the race.

While leading early in the race, Harvick nearly hit a squirrel – as he was entering Turn 3. He radioed in on the radio to tell his crew what happened as he was in disbelief; thinking a cat ran from the fence down to the apron while Harvick’s car was approaching. Prior to the first caution, just 23 cars were on the lead lap as the No. 4 car was setting a blistering pace – over seven seconds ahead of Jeff Gordon, who was in second.

On Lap 78, while running in the runner-up position, Gordon blew a left-front tire while entering Turn 3. The No. 24 car pancaked the wall, but he was able to come back and finish 17th after being stuck two laps down and having untimely cautions – preventing him from taking the wave around until the two green-white-checkered runs.

Danica Patrick earned a career-best finish as she ended the evening in the sixth position. Patrick received two free passes on Sunday evening after getting lapped. However, she consistently worked on her No. 10 car and earned a spot inside of the top 10. Ty Dillon finished 25th at Atlanta in his Sprint Cup Series debut for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 33 Chevrolet. Although he finished three laps behind the leader, Dillon gained valuable experience and finished one position behind his brother, Austin Dillon.

In the midst of the final green-flag pit cycle, Keselowski was attempting to go around Hamlin, but he missed pit road after Cole Whitt blocked him; leading the No. 2 car to slam into the back of Josh Wise’s No. 98 car.

Tony Stewart received a warm welcome by race fans during driver introductions on Sunday evening. Stewart rapidly worked his way to the sixth position within two laps of the green flag waving after starting 12th. He ran inside of the top 10 for the majority of the race until Kyle Busch and he collided on a restart. Stewart later blew a tire – ending his night in the No. 14 car as he made a return to NASCAR competition due to missing the past three events after the tragedy that occurred on the weekend of the Watkins Glen race. After the incident, he was not available for comment, but his crew chief did.

“The car has had speed all weekend long and we qualified well,” Chad Johnston said. “I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win but it just didn’t work out in our favor.  We got into a little trouble with the 18 and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage.  We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front there right before that caution came out.”

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s a good saying, right?

Tony Stewart is being judged, and being judged by people who don’t understand who this man is. The main stream media, along with users on social media, have violated Stewart’s past after an accident in Upstate New York which evidently killed Kevin Ward Jr.

Although no charges are pending, the media continues to report that he should go to jail, albeit no crime was actually committed. If you go on a search and engine – type in “Tony Stewart” and watch what happens. You will be slammed with utterly disrespectful headlines that are utterly despicable.

Publications are enabled writers to discuss the incident, but they have absolutely no prior knowledge of NASCAR, or motorsports in general. The Washington Post published an article on Monday evening entitled “A culture of road rage, not Tony Stewart, is to blame for death of Kevin Ward Jr.” This wasn’t the only incident in which Stewart’s prior history was being use to distinguish the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion as an evil, senseless and brutal murderer.

Some have questioned the safety of NASCAR, even though the incident had nothing to do with the sanctioning body other than one of those involved is one of the most well-known drivers in the sport. On her show, Nancy Grace used a picture (not video) of Stewart’s car hitting a crew member of David Reutimann’s pit crew several years ago – accusing the driver of having a history of hitting people. Reporters like this do not have any prior knowledge of the week-to-week on-goings of the world of NASCAR.

You cannot judge someone on their past. As many of my readers know, I am a Conservative Jewish citizen. I go to Synagogue on a weekly basis, and try my best to be a good person. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it is tough to do so when the main stream media is putting out statements telling the general public that a man should be convicted of a crime that really was just a series of unfortunate events.

The outcome of this tragic accident, and that’s all it was – an accident – could harm the sport’s reputations. With these reporters blaming NASCAR, there might be a rule change that forces drivers to stay in a car until medical crews arrive. But what difference does that make? Most drivers already wait for the crews, and then if they are mad – they throw a helmet or give an interesting gesture to the competitor that they are angry at. That is the problem with the modern era of motorsports.

If you have a problem, don’t settle it on the track. Walking out of a car in NASCAR isn’t as dangerous as it is in a sprint car. There are spotters in NASCAR, plenty of lighting on the track along with a wider range of vision. At a local dirt track or even your usual short track with Legends cars, Late Models, Modifieds, etc, the amount of vision a driver has is extremely limited. A few tracks have already modified their rules for drivers that get out of their cars before safety crews arrive, yet how can one prevent someone from getting out of a car when they are hotter than a pizza in an oven?

But the reaction on social media has an abundance of support for Stewart. He is clearly going through a difficult time, and he’s going to need time to heal and let his conscience take care of things.

I went on Twitter the other evening. I saw some people saying harsh things about him, but others were rather caring. In response to these two polar opposite view points, I posted a Tweet asking people to message me their responses to the situation. Here are some of the responses I received:

“My point of view is similar to Kasey Kahne’s,” Christian E. said. “None of it made sense to me. Like why would he walk right into oncoming traffic – putting himself at risk.”

But that wasn’t all people had to say about the incident.

“As a media member myself, I think it has been abysmal,” said Steven Ellis, who owns his a hockey website and has reported about NASCAR in the past. “When a non-sports media team gets involved with a sporting accident, the truth never seems to come out. For example, according to one publication in Canada, Kevin Ward died at a Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen. Is that the truth? Most certainly not. Also, Tony has been painted as a bad guy due to his history, with CBS going as far as saying Tony threated to run over Matt Kenseth in 2012 when, in context, meant he was going to spin him out.”

Moving forward, Stewart’s reputation will be on the line. According to reports, his sponsors have not been reconsidering their partnership with his organization. With no charges impending, the only thing in terms of legal matters which he will have to deal with is a possible law suit. However, that will be a battle of insurance companies more than anything.

Local short tracks are known not to have the best insurance programs. When I cover local racing at Riverhead Raceway in Long Island, New York, multiple drivers do the same thing that Ward did. Why wouldn’t they? No one actually thinks they would get killed doing that. They just want to blow off some steam. However, one driver at Riverhead was injured in a go-kart accident. Her arm was severely injured, but the insurance company only covers a small amount of her treatment.

There are so many questions that remain, and we might not know the answers to them yet, but we will sooner rather than later.

Stewart owns Macon Speedway, a dirt track in Illinois, with fellow racers Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader, along with Bob Sargent. His ownership stake could be impacted by this event, but that could be unlikely depending on what his reputation will be once the entire buzz slows down. Even with the media making him look bad, Stewart’s peers are there for him if he needs it, and it showed on social media over the weekend.

“I have been racing on dirt tracks for 10 years all over the United States and Canada and this year I have raced more than 60 dirt races,” Wallace posted on Facebook. “About once a month I see drivers do the exact same thing Kevin Ward Jr did. They get out of the race car after a wreck and walk "ON" the race track surface while cars are still going in circles to confront the car and driver they had the wreck with. I have always thought it was dangerous. After I watched the video of the accident "Over and Over" it was clear to me that the racing industry needs to come together and stop the driver from walking on the race track while cars are still going around at a good rate of speed. I blame no one and the blame game is not a good road to travel. This accident was a "Cautionary Tale" that happens every week at all race tracks around the world and now needs to be banned.”

Stewart has yet to make a decision on whether or not he will race this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. If he does race, the media will be swarming him and could cause him to be a distraction to himself, his team and competitors. However, the sooner he gets to the track – the faster the chaos surrounding him will come to a close. 

On Saturday evening, Kevin Ward Jr. passed away during a sprint car race in Canandaigua, New York. Ward made contact on the track with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart. Ward, 20, went outside of his car to show his frustration with Stewart, but Stewart’s car made contact with him – evidently ending his life.

According to Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero, Ward was taken to a local hospital after being hit by Stewart, and was pronounced deceased on arrival. Although Stewart was not charged, an investigation is ongoing as local officials are still speaking to witnesses of the incident.

Stewart’s team, Stewart Haas Racing, released the following statement after the accident early Sunday morning:

“A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We're still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time."

In the accident, Stewart squeezed into Ward’s No. 13 car in Turn 2 – causing him to have a flat tire. When he exited the cockpit of his race car, Ward walked down the track to express his displeasure with the 43-year-old driver. However, during the caution laps, he was using a slightly higher lane compared to the other drivers, and Ward rapidly walked towards Stewart’s vehicle. He was caught underneath Stewart’s right rear tire – sending him flipping in the air multiple times until he landed flat on the ground.

Since he was a four-year-old, Ward had been racing cars. Starting out in go-karts, he progressed over the years to race in Empire Super Sprint division.

In 2013, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was involved in an incident at the same track in upstate New York as well. In a 15-car crash, which Stewart caused, Alysha Ruggles, 19, received a back injury.

After originally planning on racing the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, approximately one hour away from the dirt track where the incident took place, Stewart’s team announced at 10:20 a.m. ET that he will not be racing on Sunday afternoon. Even though he was not charged by county officials and was released, he opted to sit out the race after carefully discussing the incident with his team.

Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, told reports that Regan Smith will replace Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet for Sunday’s event. Smith drives the No. 7 car for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – a team that has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. There is no word on whether or not Stewart will return to the seat of his car next weekend at Michigan International Speedway since the investigation is pending.

“We at SHR support it and agree with it,” Zipadelli said. “It's a difficult time for both parties. This is what we feel is right and we're supporting Tony in it."

Following Zipadelli’s press conference, NASCAR issued this statement:

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”

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