Tony Stewart preparing for first Watkins Glen race since 2012

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FORT WORTH -Tony Stewart will race at Watkins Glen International this weekend for the first time since 2012, having missed the past two races there because of his sprint car crash in 2013 and an incident last year where he struck Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car race.

Ward was killed Aug. 9 in an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park after he exited his car and was struck by Stewart’s car.

The accident occurred the night before the Sprint Cup Series’ race at the Watkins Glen and Regan Smith took Stewart’s place in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet.

During Wednesday’s “Smoke Show” charity event at Texas Motor Speedway, the three-time Cup champion was asked how he was different now after two trying years.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be the same from what happened the last two years,” Stewart said. “I don’t know how you could be. I don’t know how anyone could be back exactly the way they were. Not being back exactly the same that I was doesn’t mean I’ve become better in some ways. I think there’s positives that come out of every scenario.”

Stewart said he’s “trying not to think”about the one-year anniversary of the accident with Ward. Stewart missed the next three Cup races after that incident before returning at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“You guys are the first to bring it up this week,” Stewart said to reporters Wednesday. “Unfortunately, I have a feeling it’s going to get brought up a lot this week. Doesn’t help you if you continue to move forward with it.”

Stewart said he hadn’t realized he hasn’t started at Watkins Glen in three years, but that he’s looking forward to it while also “praying for rain.”

The Cup series will have rain tires on hand this weekend in case of wet weather. Early forecasts, though, are calling for no chance of rain Sunday in the Watkins Glen, N.Y., area.

“I don’t know why, but I have my heart set on racing in the rain at the Glen,” Stewart said. “I’m hoping somewhere in the equation we can figure out how to make it rain.”

Rain or not, Stewart will also be making his first start on the road course in the current generation of car. But he doesn’t know what to expect until they begin practicing.

“The thing is, they’re still race cars,” Stewart said. “No matter what generation of car it is, I’ve driven so many different types of cars. It’s either going to be tight or loose or it’s going to four-wheel drift and we’ll adjust on it from there. I don’t think it will be a big deal.”

Stewart has the second most road course wins in NASCAR history with seven (Jeff Gordon has nine), with his last coming at the Glen in 2009.

When he first started in the Cup series, in 1999, Stewart saw Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin as the two drivers one had “to worry about” on road courses, other than specialists. Then teams and driver without a road racing background “didn’t really care about it and didn’t really focus on it.”

But times have changed.

“I would say consistently, every year you can throw one or two more guys in that mix that can get in there and get the job done,” Stewart observed.

Saturday NASCAR schedule at Talladega Superspeedway

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Both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series will race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Cup cars will start the day’s action by qualifying for Sunday’s playoff race, followed by the Truck playoff race and then the Xfinity playoff race.

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday, Oct. 1

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.