Long: The many faces, moods and sides of Tony Stewart

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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – He’s a racer, comedian and antagonist. Equally fiery and compassionate, rebellious and reverent, Tony Stewart’s life has played before our eyes. Some things people didn’t want to see. Other things people couldn’t stop watching.

Wednesday, with cameras on him, the 44-year-old Stewart proved there is one competitor he can’t beat, the same competitor Jeff Gordon couldn’t beat or any other driver before them – time. Stewart will leave the Sprint Cup Series after the 2016 season but plans to race elsewhere and remain involved in NASCAR as an owner. Clint Bowyer takes Stewart’s ride in 2017.

“There’s still the opportunity to get fined, and there’s still the opportunity to be put on probation, just like always, just from a different capacity than now,’’ Stewart joked.

He unleashed one-liners and quips in the 50-minute session with reporters Wednesday at Stewart-Haas Racing, making the afternoon a breezy affair, unlike the decision to retire.

Stewart’s dilemma was that racing is all he’s done. He was 2 months old when his parents placed him in the seat of a go-kart. A 2-year-old Stewart puttered around on a plastic motorcycle wearing a Tupperware bowl as a helmet. A few years later, he was running circles in the family’s garage on his Big Wheel.

One winter night, Stewart’s father noticed a different sound as his son raced the Big Wheel in the garage. When Nelson Stewart turned, he saw his son leaning over and riding with one wheel off the ground.

“I thought that if that kid has got that kind of balance, he needs to be in a race car,’’ Nelson Stewart said years later.

So began Tony Stewart’s career.

Next year, his Sprint Cup career will end.

“You run through the range of emotions,’’ Stewart said of deciding when to retire. “There’s days you’re like, I can’t wait, and then there’s days that are like, man, do I …  you battle back and forth.’’

As one ponders the future – Stewart considered retiring after this season before pushing it back a year – it’s also time to reflect upon the past. Stewart’s is a mix of spectacular highlights and stunning lowlights.

“I think there’s things that I would like to have skipped in my life and things that have not happened, but I think everything in the big picture has happened for a reason and is part of something that’s a lot bigger than what we are in this room,’’ he said.

Only four men have won more NASCAR Sprint Cup championships than Stewart’s three. Each title marked change. His first crown in 2002 came amid controversy from striking a photographer earlier that season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His sponsor fined him $50,000 and nearly severed ties with Stewart.

His 2005 championship was a celebration of his team, giving his crew a title without as much of the rancor that surrounded the first crown.

His final title in 2011, which he calls his most gratifying accomplishment, reminded all of his talent. After going winless in the first 26 races, he won five of the 10 Chase races to win the championship in a tiebreaker against Carl Edwards. The crown came despite telling crew chief Darian Grubb midway through the Chase that Grubb would not be back with the team the following year.

When Stewart leaves next year, gone will be the competitor whose attitude most resembled that of Dale Earnhardt. Stewart’s kindness and surliness are unquestioned, whether directed toward competitors, NASCAR, media or others.

Five years after Earnhardt’s death in the Daytona 500, Stewart called for NASCAR to end bump drafting, saying that “somebody is going to die at Daytona or Talladega” unless the practice was stopped. The words were profound coming from Stewart. He had crashed earlier in the 2001 Daytona, suffering a concussion and sore ribs, and was in the emergency room when Earnhardt was brought to Halifax Health Medical Center after his fatal accident on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Two days after Stewart’s comments, NASCAR stated it would penalize excessive bump drafting. A few days after that, NASCAR penalized Stewart for running Matt Kenseth into the grass and causing Kenseth to crash. It was a move made in retaliation for one Kenseth made on Stewart earlier in the race.

One of Stewart’s most memorable rants came after finishing second in Atlanta in 2008. He exited his car and blasted Goodyear, saying: “This is the worst tire I’ve been on in my life. The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is dismounting anything that has Goodyear on it and putting Firestone or something else on it so I feel a lot safer.’’

Eventually, the two sides reconnected.

Stewart has had his share of run-ins with several competitors through the years, including tossing a helmet at Kenseth’s car in 2012 at Bristol, reportedly striking Kurt Busch in the NASCAR hauler in 2008 at Daytona, and throwing his heat shields at Kenny Irwin’s car and climbing partially into the vehicle as Irwin drove by after an incident at Martinsville in 1999.

Irwin died the following season in a crash during practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stewart won the race that weekend and gave the trophy to Irwin’s parents a few days later, a gesture that all but made Irwin’s mother speechless years later as she tried to talk about it.

Stewart’s charity extended to others in the sport. His foundation pledged $1 million to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in 2003. He often has flown friends or family members to be with injured drivers. He most recently flew members of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson’s family to Pennsylvania after Wilson’s accident at Pocono in August. Wilson died the day after the accident.

Through the years, Stewart has touched those in racing in many ways. Some will look upon him favorably, others will not. Some will see only the recent struggles – a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash in 2013 and his involvement in a fatal sprint car incident last year that has spawned a wrongful death lawsuit. Stewart said his recent struggles on and off the track played no role in his decision to leave Cup after next year.

Now, 44 races remain in Stewart’s career with eight this season and 36 next year. He has one more chance to win an elusive Daytona 500 and Southern 500, then his Cup career will be finished.

For all that Stewart has done, he might be best recalled as the late Crocky Wright did. A former midget racer, Wright easily recalled the first time he saw Stewart race a three-quarter midget. It was July 18, 1989.

“He was just a flash back to the old days the way he was driving,’’ Wright once said. “The way they go up on the rail on the fence all around. Today, most of them hug the inside pole. But he was right up there on the fence. I just knew he was going to be a great driver.’’

Each July 18 until he died in 2009, Wright used to purchase a cake to commemorate seeing Stewart race.

Now, there is only one more July 18 before the end of Stewart’s Cup career.

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

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Last week, NASCAR tested the muffler that will be used for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum.

“Heresy,” some fans cried. They argued that it is against the laws of man and nature to muffle racecars. That noise is an integral part of the fan experience. That you’re not supposed to be able to have conversations during races.

Relax.

The cars will be plenty loud.

Loud is fast

Engines produce power by combusting fuel and air in their cylinders. Each combustion produces high-pressure gases that push the piston up. The same gases make a loud popping sound when they escape the cylinder and finally the exhaust.

At 8,000 rpm, an eight-cylinder engine performs about 520 combustions every second. The faster an engine runs, the more combustions per second and the higher the frequency of the tailpipe noise.

That’s why NASCAR engines sound like grizzly bears and F1 engines, which run at higher speeds, sound more like angry mosquitoes.

Maximum horsepower requires getting the spent gases out of the cylinder as quickly as possible so the next combustion reaction can start. And that’s the problem with mufflers, from a racing perspective.

Mufflers on street cars bounce sound waves from the engine around a metal can. The waves interfere with each other, which decreases the overall volume coming from the exhaust.

Mufflers can also mitigate noise by directing the exhaust through a sound-absorbing material. Borla, the sole-source supplier for this weekend’s muffler, makes commercial racing mufflers that feature a robust sound-absorbing material superior to the commonly used fiberglass.

Both methods slow the exhaust gases — the first more than the second. The ideal racing muffler diminishes sound with minimal horsepower reduction.

Decibels

Sound-level measurements come in decibels (dB), a unit named after Alexander Graham, not Christopher — and apparently by someone who wasn’t the best speller.

But decibels don’t tell the whole story. Sound intensity decreases with distance, so you need to specify how far away the sound source was.

The easiest way to explain the decibel scale is to relate it to real-world noises, as I’ve done below.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels.

  • Zero dB is the threshold of human hearing.
  • A whisper you can just barely make out is about 20 dB.
  • Most everyday noises are in the 60 dB to 100 dB range but are sometimes louder.
  • Exposure to 130 dBs can be painful.
  • A 150-dB sound can cause permanent hearing damage in a very short time.

Ringing in your ears the day after a rock concert was a badge of honor in high school. Older me wishes I had been a little smarter.

Hair cells — not to be confused with ear hair — facilitate hearing. Sound bends these hair-shaped cells, and the cells convert sound into electrical signals that the brain interprets. Loud sounds can bend these cells so much that they break.

Unlike animals such as sharks, zebrafish — and even the lowly chicken — humans cannot grow new hair cells. Once your hearing is damaged, you can’t get it back.

How loud are racecars?

A noise mitigation study for the proposed Nashville Fairgrounds track measured a single Next Gen car at COTA generating 112 dB on a straightaway at 100 feet.

A 2008 study measured the sound level inside a Gen-6 car to be an average of 114 dB. The study also compared sound in the stands, the infield and the pits.

Let’s add those numbers to our graph.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels, including sound measurements from the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is about the same loudness as a person screaming at top volume 1 inch from your ear.
  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is just a bit quieter than sitting inside the Gen-6 car.
  • Bristol reached peak sound levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.

The graph data suggests that inside the Next Gen car should be around 10 times louder than inside the Gen-6. Some drivers made new earmolds to cope with the additional noise in the cockpit.

Because of the way sound works, the numbers don’t add like you’d expect them to. A Next Gen car might be 112 dB, but two Next Gen cars are more like 115 dB. A full field would be only 5-7 dB louder.

The mufflers won’t muffle much

NASCAR expects a six to 10-dB reduction in sound with mufflers. A 10-dB reduction would make the Next Gen car about as loud as the Gen-6 car was.

Another way of looking at it: Good earplugs reduce sound levels by 25 to 30 dB. Wearing earplugs just barely gets you into the range of being able to hold a conversation if you stand very close to each other and you both shout.

You won’t notice the change in sound inside the track.

You also won’t notice a change in speed this weekend, despite a drop of 30-40 horsepower. The Next Gen car takes around 14 seconds to traverse the L.A. Coliseum’s quarter-mile track. That means cars won’t be going much faster than typical expressway speeds.

If you’re headed out to the track this weekend — despite the mufflers — bring earplugs or over-the-ear headsets. This is especially important for children, as their hearing is more easily damaged.

Joe Gibbs Racing adds young racers to Xfinity program

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Connor Mosack, 23, and Joe Graf Jr., 24, each will drive select races in the No. 19 Xfinity Series car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Mosack, who has a 20-race Xfinity schedule with Sam Hunt Racing this year, will run three races for JGR: Chicago street course (July 1), Pocono (July 22) and Road America (July 29) while also competing in six ARCA Menards Series races for JGR, including Feb. 18 at Daytona.

Graf, who has a 28-race Xfinity schedule with RSS Racing this year, will run five races in the No. 19 Xfinity car for JGR: Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 25), Las Vegas (March 4), Richmond (April 1), New Hampshire (July 15) and Kansas (Sept. 9).

“I made my Xfinity Series debut with JGR last June at Portland and from the moment I made my first lap in their racecar, I realized why they’ve been so successful,” Mosack said in a statement. “Their equipment was second to none and the resources they had in terms of people and their knowledge was incredible.

“Jason Ratcliff was my crew chief at Portland and he’s got a ton of experience. I was able to learn from him before we even went to the track. Just in our time in the simulator, we made some great changes. So, to be back with him for three Xfinity races is going to be really valuable.

“And when it comes to JGR’s ARCA program, it’s the class of the field. After having to race against JGR cars, I’m really looking forward to racing with a JGR car. No matter what track they were on, they were always up front competing for wins. To have that chance in 2023 is pretty special, and I aim to make the most of it.”

Said Graf in a statement about his opportunity with JGR: “Running five races with JGR is a fantastic opportunity for myself and for my marketing partners. I think I can learn a lot from JGR and showcase my skills I’ve been growing in the series in the past three years. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year and I’m pumped to get started with the No. 19 group.”

Ryan Truex has previously been announced as the driver of the No. 19 Xfinity Series car in six races this season for JGR. The remaining drivers for the car will be announced at a later date.

Mosack didn’t start racing until he was 18 years old. He went on to win five Legends car championships before moving to Late Model stock cars in 2019. He graduated from High Point University in 2021 with a degree in business entrepreneurship. Mosack’s first Xfinity Series race with Sam Hunt Racing this season will be March 11 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

NASCAR weekend schedule for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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NASCAR’s winter break ends this weekend as Cup Series drivers return to the track for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

The second Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum has been expanded to 27 (from 23) drivers for the 150-lap main event. Qualifying, heat races and two “last chance” races will set the field.

MORE: Drivers to watch in the Clash

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash, the perfect start to a season that ended with him holding the Cup championship trophy.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Cup)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 71.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 66.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup Series practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 5

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four Heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two Last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?