Tony Stewart making sprint car racing debut in New Zealand this weekend

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Tony Stewart is finally getting around to fulfilling a 20-year-old racing invitation.

The three-time Cup champion, now one year removed from his NASCAR racing career, is heading south of the equator to play in the New Zealand dirt.

Stewart will compete in three sprint car events over the next two weeks, two decades after his NASCAR and IndyCar careers kept him from racing in the country.

On Saturday, Stewart will compete in a Porter Hire International Sprintcar Series race at  Western Springs Speedway in Auckland, which has hosted racing since 1929. Then on Tuesday, he’ll be part of the series’ action at Robertson Holden International Speedway in Palmerson North. He’ll then make a return visit to Western Springs on Dec. 16.

 “The promoter at Western Springs was Willie Kay and he tried to get me to come over for the 1996-97 season but just timing-wise it didn’t work out,” Stewart told The New Zealand Herald. “After 1995 I got my first NASCAR ride and the same with an IndyCar drive so there was no way I was going to have the time to come back over.

“It has been a long time coming to get over here but we are pretty excited about the chance to come out.”

Stewart made his return to sprint racing in February following a nearly three-year hiatus. Stewart stepped away from the sport after an August 9, 2014 accident when Stewart’s car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during an Empire Super Sprint Series race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

Stewart earned his first win of the year in April in the United Sprint Car Series Spring Speed Xplosion finale at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida.

The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said there is “a lot of pressure” on him during his New Zealand tour. He’ll be racing the same 410-cubic inch winger car he races at home.

“I have seen a lot of videos of Western Springs – videos from this season even just so you have an idea of how the race track changes through the course of the evening,” Stewart told The Herald. “We are not coming here blind but until you get on each race track you really don’t know what to expect.”

The New Zealand tour will be another chapter in an already eventful offseason for Stewart, who got engaged on Thanksgiving.

Stewart-Haas Racing makes pit crew changes to all four Cup teams

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Stewart-Haas Racing has made changes to all four of its pit crews heading into Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NBC Sports has confirmed.

The changes come with two of the organization’s four teams qualified for the playoffs through wins — Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer — and Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola in position to make the playoffs via points.

The changes:

— Shayne Pipala becomes the front tire changer for Harvick’s team. He replaces Eric Maycroft, who moves to Michael McDowell’s team (Stewart-Haas Racing provides the pit crew for that Front Row Motorsports team).

— Ira Jo Hussey becomes the front tire changer for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Daniel Coffey.

— Matt Holzbaur becomes the tire carrier for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Josh Sobecki. Holzbaur had been with Michael McDowell’s team.

— Daniel Coffey moves to Almirola’s team as front tire changer. Coffey replaces Ryan Mulder.

— Ryan Mulder moves to Busch’s team as front tire changer. He replaces Shayne Pipala.

The changes come after Bowyer expressed his displeasure with his pit crew’s performance last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, saying:

“Can’t … maintain the position one … damn time on pit road. It’s about … ridiculous. I’m tired of it.

“I’ve had enough. Three spots every … damn time I come down pit road.”

At Chicagoland, Harvick led going into the final pit stop but got beat by Kyle Busch, who went on to win the race. Harvick finished third.

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Ben Rhodes fastest qualifier at Eldora

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Ben Rhodes recorded the fastest time in qualification for the Eldora Dirt Derby with a lap of 86.801 mph, but he will have to wait until after his qualification race to know if he will lead the field to green. With his fastest lap, Rhodes will be credited with winning the pole.

Qualification sets the grid for five heat races with the fastest qualifier starting on the pole in race one. The second fastest qualifier will lead the field to green for the second heat race, and so on.

The top five in each qualification race will advance to the A Main with the winner of race one leading the field to green. The winner of the second heat will start alongside him on the front row.

Rhodes beat dirt midget racer Logan Seavey (86.747 mph) by .013 seconds. Seavey is making his Camping World Truck Series debut.

Tyler Dippel (86.368), Grant Enfinger (86.146) and Stewart Friesen (85.997) round out the top five.

Wendell Chavous (81.919) and Cody Coughlin (86.264) hit the wall during their qualification runs. Chavous qualified 33rd. Coughlin qualified 24th.

Points leader Johnny Sauter posted a time of 81.908 mph and was 34th among the 39 trucks that took time.

Second in points, Noah Gragson qualified 13th.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Kyle Busch joins Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features a guest appearance by Kyle Busch.

Rutledge Wood will host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton joining Busch from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

  • We’re live from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte for another edition of Wednesdays with Dale Jr. Today, we’ll be joined 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch.
  • The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry will talk about his 2018 season. He currently leads the Cup Series in race wins (5) and playoff points (30). He’ll discuss being part of the “Big Three” along with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. and how this group of champions have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
  • What are his thoughts entering this weekend’s race at New Hampshire?
  • Busch will also give his take on several other topics, including tonight’s Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway. Kyle Busch Motorsports has three trucks in the field. Should NASCAR add a dirt race to either the Cup or XFINITY Series? We’ll get his answer tonight.
  • Plus, Kyle and Dale Jr. will answer questions provided by the fans who use the hashtag #WednesDale
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

5-hour Energy to end NASCAR involvement at end of season

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Furniture Row Racing announced Wednesday that it is seeking sponsorship of the No. 78 car for next season with the announcement that 5-hour Energy will not return after this year.

5-hour Energy became the major co-primary sponsor this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats for 30 Cup races. 5-hour Energy joined Furniture Row Racing in 2017, serving as a majority primary sponsor on the No. 77 car with Erik Jones.

Wednesday’s announcement comes just days after reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. won at Kentucky Speedway for his fourth Cup win of the year.

5-hour Energy has been a primary sponsor in NASCAR for nearly a decade, including the seven in Cup.

Rise’ Meguiar, President of Sales for Living Essentials, parent company of 5-hour ENERGY, issued a statement on the business decision.

“Since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2017, the team has delivered on every promise. In addition to being a championship team, winning races and putting 5-hour ENERGY in victory lane multiple times, they have also become part of our family.  We cannot thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin and the entire Furniture Row Racing team enough for the pride they have given us.  They are a first-class group on and off the track.  Although 5-hour ENERGY has made the business decision to leave NASCAR, we will be fans and friends for life, and we look forward to finishing strong in 2018.”

Said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, in a statement:

“I want to first send a sincere thank you to everyone at 5-hour Energy for being an excellent and loyal partner. The way 5-hour Energy has activated its programs over the years demonstrated a commitment and creativity as a NASCAR race team sponsor. We understand that companies do change business strategies, but friendships last forever and that’s how we feel about 5-hour Energy.”

“Being a perennial championship contending team with a talented driver in Martin, Furniture Row Racing continues to be committed in offering a new sponsor not only success on the racetrack but also the benefit of a strong marketing platform with our powerful team of partners – Bass Pro Shops, Auto-Owners Insurance, Toyota, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress.”

This decision by 5-hour Energy comes as Truex’s contract with Furniture Row Racing ends after this season. He was asked last weekend at Kentucky about where things stood with a new contract.

“We’ve got some stuff to figure out, for sure,” Truex said. “I don’t plan on doing anything different. Just give the team some time to figure things out. We’re all kind of trying to figure it all out together so we can make it happen.”

So what needed to be figured out?

“Just sponsorship commitments and all the stuff that goes along with that,” Truex said. “Figuring out how much money we have to spend, when do we get it, how much are we getting and where can we spend it. Just trying to figure out all the details honestly. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces to be put together that we haven’t finished yet. Honestly, we haven’t been in a big hurry to get it done. In due time.”

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