(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tony Stewart says his presence in owner meetings feels ‘like an episode of Sesame Street’

10 Comments

FORT WORTH, Texas – The end of Tony Stewart‘s Sprint Cup racing career is less than six weeks away, but the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing has already gotten a taste of what the life of a full-time owner will be like.

‘The fun thing is I’ve been to a couple of the owners meetings and it’s pretty cool to sit in the room with Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs and those guys,” Stewart said Wednesday at Texas Motor Speedway.

But the three-time Sprint Cup champion said his attendance made the meetings with giants of the auto racing industry feel “like an episode of ‘Sesame Street.'”

“There’s one thing in the room that doesn’t belong and it’s not like the others and they point at me,” said Stewart, who was holding his annual “Smoke Show” Fantasy Camp benefiting Speedway Children’s Charities.

But even though he’s been co-owner of SHR since 2009, Stewart still doesn’t feel like an owner.

“I won’t say I’m a part of that group yet because I still feel like I’m just a driver right now,” said Stewart, who leaves his NASCAR driver’s seat behind on Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “To be able to work with those guys on behalf of the sport I think is going to be a lot of fun.”

At some point in the next six weeks will be Stewart’s final Sprint Cup Drivers Council meeting. Stewart is one of nine drivers on the council that was founded last year. With him on it are Brad KeselowskiJimmie Johnson, defending series champion Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

“The thing that I’m most excited about with the drivers council is I feel like it’s a good group of guys in there right now,” Stewart said. “I feel like their mindset and their ability to work together for the reason and the right causes and goals.”

Stewart’s presence on the council has had an impact this season. NASCAR’s year-long odyssey regarding lug nuts began with Stewart’s rant about the issue in April.

In January he criticized NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France for not have a presence in the meetings. France then attended an April meeting in Talladega, an act appreciated by the drivers.

He’s also been an encouraging voice for young drivers like Larson, who admitted that at first he didn’t feel deserving of a spot on the council.

“If you don’t say anything, why are you on this?’’ Stewart told Larson. “You have an opinion, speak up.’’

Stewart has opinions. On everything. But he recently said he’s ready to no longer be the voice of the garage.

Is there any opinion “Smoke” has kept to himself, waiting to drop on the drivers council right before he puts both feet into his role as an owner?

“I’m going to save that for when I get out of the car at Homestead I think,” Stewart joked at TMS. “The hard part is I wish we could tell you guys all the stuff that’s discussed in it but it’s not the right thing to do.”

Stewart is “proud” of what the council has accomplished in it first two years and is a little surprised at how unselfish its members have been.

“It would be really easy in our sport to be selfish and try to work on things that you think are going to benefit you,” Stewart said. “But the driver council does a really good job of not doing that. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about that, but I guess to a certain degree a little bit I was surprised that everybody really cared more about the sport than they were about what their individual organizations were working on.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman share thoughts on possible restrictor plates in Brickyard 400

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this July will work as a testing ground for the future use of restrictor plates at the historic 2.5-mile track.

NASCAR announced earlier this week the July 22 race would be raced under the influence of the plates that have previously only been used at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and one Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000.

Depending on the effectiveness of the plates on the level of competition, they could be used in future Cup Series races at the track.

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was “up for whatever” in hopes of improving the racing at a track that seen drastic declines in attendance in the last decade.

“That race is really suffering as far as the show and how entertaining I think it is to watch,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t really know what the answer is to make it more exciting, but I think this is a great opportunity to find out if this is the direction to go.  I am all for it. And I like the idea of trying it in the Xfinity Series or the (Camping World) Truck Series or what have you whatever track it is at to try it in that feeder series.  That is an opportunity to see if we can get it right without ruining anything for the Cup guys.”

NASCAR has been visiting IMS since 1994 and will return for the 24th Brickyard 400 weekend this summer. But the competition level in the race has paled in comparison to what’s usually seen two months earlier in IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500.

“I think NASCAR watches the Indy 500 and they see those guys drafting and passing and they are competitive,” Earnhardt said. “They have to try to put on that type of show if not better at that race track.  It is not good in conversation to have the IndyCar race be more exciting to watch than the NASCAR race there.  That is just business.  I think it’s great for them to be aggressive.”

Earnhardt referenced the big swing NASCAR took in the Brickyard 400 two years ago when Cup cars had an aero package that included nine-inch spoilers, an attempt at creating pack racing. The result was disappointing and widely panned.

NASCAR held a three-car test at IMS last October to try out eight different configurations with restrictor plates that included various splitter heights and gear ratios. The setup that will be used will also include NASCAR’s first ever use of “aero ducts.”

Xfinity teams will also use the 2016 specs for splitters and spoilers.

When it comes to the restrictor plates, 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman said his view of restrictor plates is they are used where there is a need for “a balance there on speed and safety.

“I don’t know what their sim results are or what their testing has been to validate what needs to be done, but I believe it’s all based off of safety,” Newman said of the decision to use restrictor plates. “Indianapolis is unique in the fact that the corners really are kind of 90 degrees. You never really hit at 90 degrees, but you’re hitting more so at a sharper angle than you are at a place like Fontana or Michigan or even at 1.5-mile race tracks. … But given the driver’s throttle response and acceleration and the ability to pass people is equally important. And we’ve seen some racing that gets pretty spread out at Indianapolis. I don’t know if a restrictor plate would make that the same or worse; or even better for that matter. To me, I think the restrictor plate, or at least the term restrictor plate, is usually more about safety and top speeds than it is anything else.”

 and on Facebook

Starting grid for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
1 Comment

With the second pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kyle Larson will lead the field to green Sunday in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Joining Larson the front row is Denny Hamlin.

Filling out the top five is Brad Keselowski, Martin Treux Jr. and Ryan Newman.

Click here for the starting grid.

Kyle Larson wins pole for Auto Club 400, second Cup pole of career

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Larson ended a three-year drought by winning the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400.

Larson won his second Cup Series pole with a speed of 187.047 mph around Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. His first pole came in the August 2013 race at Pocono Raceway.

The pole continues Larson’s impressive start to 2017. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver leads the point standings after earning three consecutive second-place finishes.

“I felt like messed up there in Turn 1 and 2 and I got a little bit loose off the wall on the entry and it got me to split the seam in (Turn) 1 and 2,” Larson told Fox Sports. “I was able to commit to (being) wide open off (Turn) 1 and 2. I hadn’t ran up high in (Turn) 3 and 4 at all in practice or qualifying here. Didn’t really know what I would have out there but ran a good ways and it stuck. … Our Target team has been really amazing to start the season and to get a pole is great. … Got a little team dinner tonight, so this will be a good thing to celebrate.”

Larson’s run knocked Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin from the top spot. As Larson drove down pit road, a Fox Sports camera caught Hamlin playfully showing his dissatisfaction by emptying a cup of ice in the direction of the No. 42.

“This is No. 1 on my list of track I want to win,” Hamlin told Fox Sports. “It’s bitten me mentally and physically … definitely one I want to check off.”

Filling out the top five is Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Newman.

Daniel Suarez qualified 10th for his best career Cup start.

No Hendrick Motorsports entries will start in the top 10. Kasey Kahne was the top qualifier in 12th, followed by Chase Elliott.

Five cars did not make qualifying attempts, with one of them being by choice. Jimmie Johnson’s team elected not to make an attempt following his accident in practice. He will start 37th.

Joining Johnson at the back of the field will be Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto and Gray Gaulding. All of their cars did not make it through inspection in time to qualifying.

Click here for qualifying results.

Jimmie Johnson’s team elects not to make qualifying run after accident in practice

Leave a comment

Following Jimmie Johnson’s accident in practice early Friday, Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 team chose not to qualify with a backup car at Auto Club Speedway.

Johnson, a six-time winner at Auto Club Speedway, will start 37th in Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Four other cars, including those of Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne, will start in the back after they did not make qualifying attempts. Their cars failed to get through inspection in time. Rookie Gray Gaulding and Matt DiBenedetto also did not qualify because their cars failed to get through inspection.

Johnson explained his team’s decision.

“We had a tough practice session and mid-pack was probably going to be our goal anyway,” he said. “So, to take our lumps here, at a track that’s really wide with a lot of lanes, a long race; we’ll just take our lumps and get the car right where we can take advantage of the precious minutes that we have in Saturday’s practice session and go from there. Pit road is going to be a problem. We’re not going to have a great pick there. We’re definitely not in a position we want to be in, so we’d rather take the time now and make sure we get everything right and get this car right; and also kind of control our risk factor.”

With ACS being such a wide race track with plenty of passing opportunities, Johnson is not in as bad a position to start Sunday’s race as he would be at more narrow track.

Crew chief Chad Knaus told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Claire B. Lang he wasn’t comfortable forcing Johnson to “hustle” to qualify a car he hadn’t practiced in.