Tony Stewart finished 17th Thursday night in the season-opening Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car series race at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida.
The race marked the first of what Stewart has said would be about 80 races he’ll run this year since he’s no longer driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He’s not released a full schedule and had not announced where he’d make his return. A team spokesperson confirmed to NBC Sports that Stewart is scheduled to race with the series Friday and Saturday at Bubba Raceway Park.
Stewart explained last month his reasoning for being coy about his schedule.
“I think we’re just going to drop in for a while now,” Stewart said. “I like it on the nights that fans know we’re going because we get to see fans passionate about what we did on the Cup side, but at the same time, it makes it more hectic in the pit area to do our job, and right now, I just want to get back to driving the race cars again.
“We need to keep it simple for a while before we let everyone know where we’re going.”
Stewart started on the pole in his heat race and finished sixth Thursday. He started second and finished second in the B feature, advancing to the A feature. He started 20th in that race.
Stewart, who owns the series for 410 winged sprint cars, wasn’t the only driver with NASCAR experience in the event. Rico Abreu, who competed in the Camping World Truck Series last year, was 11th.
The race also marked the first time Stewart has competed in a sprint car since August 9, 2014, when his car struck Kevin Ward Jr. during an Empire Super Sprint Series race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Ward died from the injuries he suffered. Stewart was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury, but a lawsuit brought by Ward’s family remains in the court system. A mediation deadline was recently extended to April 21.