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Podcast: Tony Stewart on a new role driving his team’s T-shirt trailer

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Tony Stewart is enjoying his new life of driving – and not just behind the wheel of a sprint car again.

In his first year without racing NASCAR in 18 seasons, the three-time Cup champion is logging as many hours on the interstate as on the track, driving the Ford pickup truck that pulls his team’s T-shirt trailer between races.

“It’s nice to get on the road, driving down the interstate,” Stewart said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “You can think of a lot of things, you can also just have time to not think of anything and just relax. Driving down the road is a good opportunity just to do that.”

During one recent stretch, Stewart drove the truck to a track near Madison, Wisconsin. After arriving midafternoon and racing, he left at 1 a.m. and drove until 5:30 a.m. After a six-hour break, he and the team completed the drive to Knoxville Raceway in Iowa for a Saturday night race that ended around 11 p.m.

Stewart then drove the trailer back to his team’s shop in Brownsburg, Indiana, arriving around 8 a.m. He reached his house near Columbus an hour later and slept until late afternoon.

The souvenir business is strong enough in dirt-track racing to make the road trips worth the effort. Kyle Larson’s success in sprint cars this year has put the spotlight on the disparity between merchandise profits for drivers in Cup vs. grassroots.

“I know it’s been a controversy, but everywhere we’ve gone and taken our souvenir trailer, we’ve done great with it,” Stewart said on the podcast. “I know for the drivers whose full-time job is driving race cars, that T-shirt business is huge. Thank God it’s not under the NASCAR side of it, or these guys wouldn’t be making anything on souvenirs. The guys on the NASCAR side aren’t making squat on souvenirs, and it’s something that ticks me off daily. The drivers who worked their entire life to build their brands aren’t making the most money on it.”

Four days after recording the podcast, Stewart won his second sprint car race of the season, which he described as “a challenge.

“It’s not been near as easy as I’d like it to be,” said Stewart, who has struggled to adapt his cars and style to a different tire. “But that’s why l like going sprint car racing, too, because it’s not easy. It’s really difficult.”

What has been easier for him is the pace of life without the demands of being a full-time NASCAR driver. As an owner of various racetracks, companies, series and teams, Stewart faced as much pressure from outside the car while trying to race Cup.

“We’ve got a lot of things on our plate,” he said. “This has taken a ton of stress out. The workload is higher now, but I’m having fun doing the work that I’m doing. It’s definitely been the right move for me.”

It also has allowed for some unique freelancing for Stewart, who raced in the prestigious Little 500 for the first time this year and plans to become a regular at an annual three-quarter midget race at the Columbus, Indiana, fair (along with attending the Monaco Grand Prix next year). A one-off ride in the Global Rallycross series also is a possibility.

“It’s nice to be so busy that it’s hard to find time to do all the things we want to do,” he said.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

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NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. The team told NBC Sports it will not appeal the penalty.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.

Truck Series gets minor name change for 2020

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Four days after the end of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, NASCAR announced the series will receive a minor name change for the 2020 season.

The series will be called the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series when the season starts in February at Daytona International Speedway.

This is the second name change for the series in two years.

This season saw the name change from the Camping World Truck Series, which had been the title from 2009-2018.

Gander Outdoors and Camping World are owned by the same company.

Next year will also see a different name for the Cup Series. With the series going to a new sponsorship model, it will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.