Tony Stewart making sprint car racing debut in New Zealand this weekend

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Tony Stewart is finally getting around to fulfilling a 20-year-old racing invitation.

The three-time Cup champion, now one year removed from his NASCAR racing career, is heading south of the equator to play in the New Zealand dirt.

Stewart will compete in three sprint car events over the next two weeks, two decades after his NASCAR and IndyCar careers kept him from racing in the country.

On Saturday, Stewart will compete in a Porter Hire International Sprintcar Series race at  Western Springs Speedway in Auckland, which has hosted racing since 1929. Then on Tuesday, he’ll be part of the series’ action at Robertson Holden International Speedway in Palmerson North. He’ll then make a return visit to Western Springs on Dec. 16.

 “The promoter at Western Springs was Willie Kay and he tried to get me to come over for the 1996-97 season but just timing-wise it didn’t work out,” Stewart told The New Zealand Herald. “After 1995 I got my first NASCAR ride and the same with an IndyCar drive so there was no way I was going to have the time to come back over.

“It has been a long time coming to get over here but we are pretty excited about the chance to come out.”

Stewart made his return to sprint racing in February following a nearly three-year hiatus. Stewart stepped away from the sport after an August 9, 2014 accident when Stewart’s car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during an Empire Super Sprint Series race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

Stewart earned his first win of the year in April in the United Sprint Car Series Spring Speed Xplosion finale at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida.

The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said there is “a lot of pressure” on him during his New Zealand tour. He’ll be racing the same 410-cubic inch winger car he races at home.

“I have seen a lot of videos of Western Springs – videos from this season even just so you have an idea of how the race track changes through the course of the evening,” Stewart told The Herald. “We are not coming here blind but until you get on each race track you really don’t know what to expect.”

The New Zealand tour will be another chapter in an already eventful offseason for Stewart, who got engaged on Thanksgiving.

NASCAR America: Steve Letarte: Denny Hamlin showing ‘remarkable consistency’

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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”

“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.

Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.

“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”

Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.

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Trevor Bayne on Charlotte Roval: ‘You have to be on your game’

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Rain washed out the second day of Goodyear tire testing Wednesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. Goodyear has tentatively scheduled May 1 as a make-up test date.

Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson took part in the test Tuesday.

“I just took some slow pace laps and got a feel for the race track,” Bayne said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was nervous, but I wasn’t anxious because I was never going to go out there and make qualifying laps. We worked our pace in and our plan, we stuck to it. I felt really good by the end of the day.

“You have to be on your game, that’s for sure. You can’t really let your guard down anywhere. There’s no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it pretty quickly. If you try to do something and it doesn’t work, you’ll pay the price. It’s going to be a survival race. … If you’re smart, you take care of your car and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll have a really good shot at the end for a good finish. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge for me – something new – and I enjoyed that part of it.”

Organizational tests at Charlotte will be in July. There will be two different sessions. Each team is allowed to test at one of the two sessions, which will be July 10 (rain date of July 11) and July 17 (rain date of July 18).

The Charlotte Roval hosts the final race of the first round of the Cup playoffs on Sept. 30 on NBC.

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NASCAR issues two fines for unsecured lug nuts at Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR announced two crew chief fines for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Adam Stevens, crew chief on Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Xfinity Series, Eric Phillips, the crew chief for Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

No other penalties were announced.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Drivers to watch, favorite sports upsets

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to look forward to this weekend’s racing at Martinsville Speedway.

Marty Snider hosts with Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan from the “Big Oak Table” in Charlotte.

What to expect from today’s show.

  • The same names have been dominating the headlines in the first five races in the 2018 season. We will take a look at some of the other drivers to be on the lookout for as the season rolls on.
  • One of NASCAR’s most historic tracks is up this weekend – Martinsville! We’ll check out some of the recent drama “The Paperclip” has provided ahead of the race.
  • In the spirit of March Madness, our panel will tell us about their most memorable sports moments, as well as some of NASCAR’s biggest upsets.
  • Plus, The Indianapolis 500 will have a new home in 2019. We’ll have all the details on NASCAR America.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.