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.