NASCAR

Tony Stewart making final start at Richmond, site of first Sprint Cup win

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There once was a time when Tony Stewart was just Tony Stewart.

Back before “Smoke” came along.

Years before the three Sprint Cup championships, the 49 wins, the notorious Bristol helmet toss and garage area driver confrontations, Stewart was a NASCAR rookie.

Though your memories of it may be fuzzy, that time was 17 years ago.

And 17 years ago this week in 1999, Stewart earned his first Sprint Cup win at Richmond International Raceway, or “The Action Track.”

The race was the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400, the 25th points event of the season, held on Sept. 11, 1999.

That week, the No. 1 movie at the box office was the supernatural horror film Stigmata starring Patricia Arquette, which ended a six-week reign by The Sixth Sense.

The song at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 was “Bailamos” by Enrique Iglesias.

In Richmond, Stewart entered the race fifth in points, behind Jeff Gordon and ahead of Jeff Burton, who had won the 50th Southern 500 the week before.

Up until that point, Stewart had been begging for a win, especially at a short track. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had started from the pole at Bristol two races earlier and led 225 laps before finishing fifth. He’d led 118 laps at Loudon and finished 10th and early in the season at Dover led 127 laps and finished fourth.

At the first Richmond race that season, Stewart started 30th and finished 15th.

On Sept. 11, Stewart started on the outside pole, his fifth front-row start of the season. On the pole was Mike Skinner, who earned six poles in his Sprint Cup career.

Also in the field was Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his fourth of five Cup starts that season.

Stewart and Skinner swapped the lead twice in the first four laps before Stewart took it over for the next 25.

Stewart’s JGR teammate, Bobby Labonte, would lead for three laps until Stewart took it back on Lap 33  and led for 138 laps.

The No. 20 would lead twice more. The last stretch began on Lap 257 when Stewart assumed the lead from Jeff Gordon, then just a one-time winner at RIR.

Gordon would drop out on Lap 311 with a transmission issue. Stewart would lead the final 144 laps.

With Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett on the call for ESPN, Stewart, at 28, claimed his first Sprint Cup win.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h8BqPfHGwE%5D

Stewart was the first first-time winner in Sprint Cup since Jeremy Mayfield at Pocono Raceway in June 1998. More importantly, he was the first rookie to win since Davey Allison at Dover International Speedway in 1987.

Finishing out the top five was Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin and Kenny Irwin Jr.

After emerging from his car, Stewart embraced crew chief Greg Zipadelli and Stewart’s fiance at the time, Krista Dwyer.

“I wish I knew what to say, I mean you plan all your life for something like this,” Stewart said. “This is the first time I’ve been speechless, everybody knows I like to talk. This is for Davey Allison, this is the mark I had to shoot for all year. Donnie Allison and his family have been great to me this year. I’m out of breath, that’s a lot of stuff to talk about after winning a race.”

The native of Columbus, Indiana, would win two more times in 1999, consecutive races at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stewart would also win twice more at RIR, the last victory coming in 2002.

On Saturday, in the Federated Auto Parts 400 on NBCSN, Stewart will make his 35th and final start at the .750-mile track.

“I’ve always felt like Richmond was the ultimate drivers’ track,” Stewart said in a press release. “When we didn’t have all the downforce like we do now, you used to literally move around the racetrack. You didn’t get stuck in one groove. You could be fast there running two or three different ways, using three different lines. You could do what you needed to do to complement your car or not hurt it. That’s what I have always liked about it. It’s always going to be my favorite track.”

Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

R. Kevin Butts photo - Courtesy of COTA
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The Cup Series will do more road course racing in 2021 with the addition of the Circuit of the Americas to the schedule, the track announced Wednesday.

The Cup race will be held May 23.

The 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, has hosted Formula One and IndyCar races, among others since its debut in 2012. The track also has a 2.2-mile, 15-turn short course. Announcements regarding race length, course selection and the full weekend schedule will be made at a later date.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

A NASCAR event has never been held at Circuit of the Americas, but Tony Stewart piloted a Stewart-Haas Racing car there last year in a demonstration run.

COTA is located roughly 220 miles south of Texas Motor Speedway. Speedway Motorsports will be the event’s promoter.

“Our company is proud to have a 60-year history of fabulous firsts in motorsports entertainment, and we are honored to bring America’s premier racing series to one of the world’s most renowned entertainment venues and cities for the very first time,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith in a statement. “I’d like to thank COTA CEO Bobby Epstein as well as NASCAR’s executive leadership for supporting us in an endeavor to do something that we believe will be spectacular for race fans, not only in Texas but around the world. We work and challenge ourselves every day at Speedway Motorsports to create amazing experiences that will last a lifetime, and we know NASCAR at COTA will deliver in 2021.” 

“I’m grateful for Marcus Smith’s vision and determination to make this event possible,” said Circuit of the Americas CEO and Chairman, Bobby Epstein in a statement. “His teams in Charlotte and at Texas Motor Speedway have created a spirit of partnership that will make for a spectacular weekend of fun and competition. Speedway Motorsports, along with the leadership at NASCAR, have a ‘Fans First’ attitude and have responded to everyone who has long desired to see a Cup Series race at COTA. Fans who’ve been here before will witness stock car racing at its finest for the first time, and first-time visitors will be amazed at the views and friendly experience. It will be our pleasure to write another chapter of motorsports history alongside Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR in 2021.” 

The complete 2021 schedule will be announced this afternoon by NASCAR.

Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

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The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021 but will race on the road course for the first time instead of the oval, track officials announced Wednesday.

Cup will race on the road course on Aug. 15. That race will be held a day after the NTT IndyCar Series races on the Indy road course.

“Our first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants involved,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and IndyCar together during this exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

MORE: Atlanta to have two Cup dates in 2021

MORE: Darlington to run Cup races on Mother’s Day, Labor Day weekend in 2021

The Cup Series has raced at Indy since 1994. But as the racing there has been questioned and the sport has made a push for more road course races, NASCAR moved the Xfinity Series to the road course this year as a trial. The event was well received, creating the opportunity to move next year’s Cup race to the road course as well.

“Indy is Indy, no matter if you’re on the road course or you’re on the oval,” Joey Logano said of what a win there would mean. “It doesn’t matter. If you’re on the dirt track, I don’t care, it’s Indy. It’s that big deal to win there. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Cup car, IndyCar or a tricycle, you want to win at that race track.”

Indy’s road course is 2.439 miles and features 14 turns. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race there after a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps.

The full Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon. The Xfinity schedule will be announced at a later date. Boles said on a media Zoom he was unsure of the Xfinity plans but talked with Logano about an interest Logano would have in running in a Xfinity race there to get more track time for the Cup race.

 

Darlington Raceway gets second Cup race for 2021

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Darlington Raceway will have two races in 2021, marking the first time since 2004 that the track has been scheduled to hold multiple Cup races in a season. The track announced its schedule Wednesday with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at the Governor’s mansion.

“Congratulations. Thank you. Hallelujah,” Gov. McMaster said after the dates were announced.

Darlington was scheduled to host one race in 2020 but added two more in NASCAR’s return to racing after the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

MORE: Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021 for first time since 2010

The track will hold its first Cup race next season on May 9. That is Mother’s Day. It marks only the third time in the last 40 years the series will have run on Mother’s Day. The series last raced on Mother’s Day in 2007 when rain forced the Darlington race to be held that afternoon. The only other time NASCAR raced on Mother’s Day in the last 40 years was 1986 when the All-Star Race was held at Atlanta.

Darlington’s second date will be its Southern 500 event on Sept. 5, Labor Day weekend. That race will again open the  Cup playoffs.

NASCAR will announce the 2021 Cup schedule on Wednesday afternoon.

Darlington hosted two Cup races a season from 1960-2004. It held one Cup race from 2005-19.

The track stated that 2021 schedules for the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be announced at a later date.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, tweeted that the Darlington races would be run with the low downforce package.

 

 

Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021

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Atlanta Motor Speedway will host two Cup races in 2021, marking the first time since 2010 that the 1.5-mile speedway will have multiple Cup events in the same season.

Atlanta will host Cup races on March 21 and July 11.

The July 11 race will be the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart, moving sponsorship that had been with Kentucky Speedway. Kentucky Speedway will not be on the 2021 schedule. Its date becomes the second Atlanta date. The March race will be known at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

The July race marks the first 400-mile race at Atlanta since 1966.

The track announced its dates Wednesday morning. The full 2021 Cup schedule will be released Wednesday afternoon.

Atlanta Motor Speedway stated on its website that it plans to host fans in its stands and camping areas in socially distanced, limited capacity for each of its Cup races in 2021.

“We’re beyond excited to deliver what our fans have been yearning for: a second weekend of NASCAR action in Atlanta once again,” AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison said in a statement. “Folds of Honor and QuikTrip continue to be phenomenal partners for our spring weekend of racing and we’re thrilled to have Quaker State and Walmart on board this summer as we put together two weekends of entertainment and excitement for race fans.”