Tony Stewart says Bobby Rahal offered him an Indianapolis 500 ride

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Tony Stewart’s dream of returning to the Indianapolis 500 remains very much alive, but he might be hitting the brakes on next season despite already having an offer.

In an interview with Rutledge Wood (video above) during Sunday’s rain delay at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Stewart said he has been emailed by IndyCar team owner Bobby Rahal about running one of his cars in the Greatest Spectacle of Racing next season.

“And I don’t do emails, so I haven’t even responded to Bobby Rahal yet, so I just found out I had an email from him,” Stewart said, pausing to turn to the camera with a smile. “Sorry Bobby, I don’t do email.”

The delayed response is OK because Stewart seems to be taking himself out of the running already for 2019 after indicating a month ago that he was ready to return to the Indianapolis 500 after an 18-year absence.

“Not this coming year,” he said. “I did what I normally do, I let my mouth open before I thought about what I was saying and mentioned that I was open to the possibility again, and I realistically am.

“The reason I wouldn’t do it next year, I’m not doing it to just do it. I want to do it to try to win the race. If you’re really going to do that, the IndyCar Series is so competitive right now, and the drivers and teams so tough, you’re not going to just stroll in here like they used to do in the ’70s and ’80s and do a good job. I’d want to run an oval race sometime in the coming year to get ready for 2020 if I’m going to do it.

Stewart, who was born and raised in Indiana and lives about an hour south of Indianapolis in Columbus, also said he had talked with team owner Michael Andretti and noted that Roger Penske recently said his offer to drive one of his cars in May remained open. He also believes team owner Chip Ganassi (who fielded Stewart in the 2001 Indy 500, his most recent start) would give him another shot.

The three-time NASCAR champion, who will turn 48 next May, won the 1997 IndyCar championship and has five starts in the Indianapolis 500. In 1999 and ’01, he raced both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

“I’ve learned to never say never, but you keep doing the math, and I’m pretty sure 49’s probably not a good age to try to resurrect an IndyCar career, but who knows, I’ve done a lot dumber things than that.”

NASCAR America: Brickyard 400 is barometer of success

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If one wants a good indicator of who is going to win the championship and who will eventually join NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, look to the Brickyard 400.

In 24 previous editions of this race, only five drivers have won multiple Brickyard 400s. Two of them are already in the Hall of Fame: Jeff Gordon with his five wins and Dale Jarrett with two. The other three multiple winners will almost certainly join them in the Hall. Jimmie Johnson has four Brickyard 400 wins with Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch at two each.

As Nate Ryan pointed out on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, it has also been a good way to determine who is going to win the championship.

“It’s been an excellent championship barometer,” Ryan said. “Nine times in 24 Brickyard 400s, the winner of this race has gone on to win the championship the same year.

“That tells you everything about how difficult it is to win. You have to be a team that is on its game in terms of horsepower, in terms of aerodynamics. The track is extremely difficult to drive … it’s not built for stock cars, you have to be very precise through every turn at extremely high rates of speed and that’s why the best drivers and the best teams win here.”

The list of multiple winners underscores the importance of winning a Brickyard 400. It is possible to win this race based on strategy, but repeating takes a special kind of driver.

“I think back to what Jeff Burton was saying about the Southern 500 this past weekend. … When you look at the Southern 500 winners list, there’s not a lot of flukes,” Parker Kligerman said. “And when you look at the Brickyard 400 – it’s not a lot of flukes. Yes, we’ve had some crazy one-offs here and there, but when you look at drivers like (the multiple winners) who are certain Hall of Famers … that tells you this race really allows drivers and teams to rise up. The cream is going to rise to the top in these bigger races.”

For more, watch the videos above.

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Kasey Kahne to miss Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Leavine Family Racing announced Thursday that defending Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne will miss Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway due to the lingering effects from extreme heat exhaustion following the Southern 500.

Kahne went to the infield care center after finishing 24th this past Sunday at Darlington Raceway.

Kahne consulted several physicians who recommended that he sit out this weekend’s events at Indianapolis until further testing and evaluations are completed.

Regan Smith will drive the team’s No. 95 car this weekend. Smith has served as a fill-in driver in the past for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. Smith, who has been working as a pit reporter for Fox Sports, last raced in Cup at Dover in June 2017 for an injured Almirola. Smith has one career Cup win in 213 starts.

Leavine Family Racing stated that a timeframe for Kahne’s return has not been set.

Kahne is scheduled to take part in a teleconference with reporters Friday morning to discuss his situation.

Kahne has previously announced this will be his final full-time season in NASCAR.

 

Kurt Busch mulling contract offers for 2019

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — Kurt Busch said Friday he has received two contract offers for next season but has not made a decision on where he will race.

The 2004 Cup champion’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing expires after this season.

Busch did not say what teams have offered him contracts.

“It’s kind of the same thing as last year where the team at Stewart-Haas put me into free agency, it gives me the opportunity to talk to others,” Busch said at Darlington Raceway. “I do have the loyalty and the respect from Monster Energy.

“As the sport evolves and the sport changes, it’s unique for me to understand more about the ownership side and how the different structures are set up. No updates. Just more information for me to digest. We’ll announce things when they get closer.”

Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after Busch won at Bristol two weeks ago that he was not sure where Busch would race in 2019.

“I really think you need to talk to Kurt Busch and Chip Ganassi and Jamie McMurray. I think they know more than we do,” Haas told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, referring to reports that Busch would leave Stewart-Haas Racing for Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 car next year.

Busch could be among multiple former Cup champions changing teams after this season. That last happened prior to the 2009 season when former Cup champions Tony Stewart (Joe Gibbs Racing to what would become Stewart-Haas Racing) and Bobby Labonte (Petty Enterprises to Hall of Fame Racing, changed teams.

Questions have circulated in the garage about what Furniture Row Racing and reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. will do after losing 5-hour Energy as a sponsor after this season. Questions remain despite car owner Barney Visser issuing a statement Aug. 8 that “not fielding a team in 2019 is not an option.” 5-hour Energy will be a co-primary sponsor on the car for 30 races this season, including this weekend.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin was asked Friday how it would impact JGR if it didn’t have ties to Furniture Row Racing after this season.

“I don’t know how it would directly impact us,” Hamlin said. “They definitely bring some information to the table, like I said, for us on any given weekend and we share that information back with them, but we’ve been a four-car operation for a long time now and we just started the fifth here just a few years ago. I don’t know that it would make a huge impact one way or another, but certainly they’ve been really good partners of ours for the last few years.”

Busch, who drove for Furniture Row Racing late in the 2012 season and all of 2013, was asked Friday what it would mean to the sport if there wasn’t a Furniture Row Racing next season.

“That’s a heavy question,” Busch said. “It’s a loaded question because they’re the current defending championship team. For anybody to come in and buy that program right now, you’re going to have instant success and the parts and pieces and the people that they have have made that place as successful as it is and that comes through Barney Visser and his commitment to motorsports. 

“I think things will work out. It’s, again, a tough time in our sport with sponsorship and the way that corporate America and sponsorships are valuing our sport and so when that is cut back from a team owner, the team owner is like wait a minute I just put a decade into developing this team and I want it to run on its own and now it can’t? Barney’s heart will step back in. I don’t see them changing much for 2019, but I could be wrong.”

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Friday 5: Silly season, charter sales and track news

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Not since 2009 have two former Cup champions switched teams — but might that take place for next season?

With 12 races left this year, former champions and free agents Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch have not stated where they will race in 2019.

Truex has won 20 percent of the Cup races since last season, finished in the top five 56.7 percent of the time and scored a top 10 in more than two-thirds of those races.

It would seem natural that the 38-year-old reigning Cup champion will stay with Furniture Row Racing, but everything changed when 5-hour Energy announced July 18 it would end its involvement in NASCAR after this season. 5-hour Energy became a co-primary sponsor for 30 Cup races this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats.

Two weeks ago at Bristol, Truex couldn’t give a number when asked to estimate a percentage of remaining with the team after this season.

“Right now, we need sponsorship,” Truex said then. “That’s as simple as it gets.”

Busch, 40, signed a one-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing in December, after Monster Energy decided to return as a team sponsor. Busch, the 2004 Cup champ, has said he’s talked to multiple teams about a ride for next year.

Busch won two weeks ago at Bristol to assure a playoff spot. He has four top-five finishes and 15 top-10 results this season — nearly bettering what he did last season for SHR.

The last time two drivers with Cup championships switched teams for the same season was 2009 when Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte changed teams.

Stewart, a two-time champion at the time, went from Joe Gibbs Racing to Haas CNC Racing, which was renamed Stewart-Haas Racing. He won his third title in 2011 for that organization. Labonte, who won the 2000 crown, moved from Petty Enterprises to Hall of Fame Racing in 2009.

2. Boom or Bust?

When a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of BK Racing — and its charter — to Front Row Motorsports last week, it marked the ninth time that a charter has been sold since the system was created before the start of the 2016 season.

One charter has been sold twice in that period, meaning eight separate charters (22.2 percent) have been sold in less than three years. Many more have been leased. Teams can lease a charter once in five years.

The charter system debuted in February 2016 after about 18 months of discussions between NASCAR and team owners. NASCAR announced there would be 36 charters, guaranteeing each holder a starting spot in each race. The charter system also guarantees a set amount of income that isn’t solely based on a team’s finishing position in a race. Performance the past three years, a fixed amount per race and year-end point fund money also are factored.

The point was that teams could better budget what they would receive during the season and have a better idea of how much sponsorship they needed.

Also, the charter system was billed as a way to provide greater value to teams and led to the creation of a Team Owners Council, similar to what Cup drivers have. The Team Owners Council since has played a key role in the discussion of rule changes.

The money paid for charters has been kept quiet. Court documents from BK Racing’s bankruptcy case state that BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million in December 2016.

The bankruptcy court approved Front Row Motorsports’ purchase of BK Racing for $2.08 million. That included the charter, cars, equipment and other assets, meaning the charter sold for less than the one BK Racing sold in December 2016.

The bankruptcy court approved the bidding process for the BK Racing sale. A price of $1.8 million from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing, was set as the minimum bid for the charter and certain assets. At the auction, Front Row Motorsports was the only bidder and topped Beam’s total.

Less than three years into the charter system, the movement of charters shows the difficulties with owning a team. The hope was that it would lead to a way for new investors to join the sport — and it could happen in the future.

But it takes more than a charter. There is all the equipment that must be purchased, personnel hired and the need for an alliance to have any hope of being competitive. Then there’s the sponsorship that a team needs to secure. That’s even a big jump for an Xfinity team to make if it wants to move to Cup.

With all that, it’s not surprising at this point that the charters have been passed among those that already own teams.

Here are the charters that have been sold since the charter system was created:

2016 season — Michael Waltrip Racing sold a charter to Stewart-Haas Racing for the No. 41 car.

2016 — Michael Waltrip Racing sold a charter to Joe Gibbs Racing for the No. 19 car.

2017 season — Premium Motorsports sold a charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car.

2017 — BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million, according to court documents.

2017 — HScott Motorsports sold a charter to Premium Motorsports for the No. 15 car.

2017 — Tommy Baldwin Racing sold a charter to Leavine Family Racing for the No. 95 car.

2018 season — Furniture Row Racing sold the No. 77 car’s charter to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car.

2018 — Roush Fenway Racing sold a charter to Team Penske for the No. 12 car.

2018 — BK Racing charter sold in bankruptcy court to Front Row Motorsports for $2.08 million, including various assets.

3. Track News – Rockingham

The Richmond County Daily Journal reported that Rockingham Properties, LLC was expected to finalize paperwork Thursday on the purchase of Rockingham Speedway.

The paper did not list a price but stated that county tax administrator Vagas Jackson said the property was valued at $2,993,324. The paper reported that Dan Lovenheim, who owns restaurants and bars in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, is the majority owner of Rockingham Properties LLC.

Lovenheim did not provide the paper with plans for the track only to say they are “remarkably encompassing.”

4. Track News – Lucas Oil Raceway

The Indianapolis Star reported Thursday that Lucas Oil Raceway, which includes the drag strip that will host the upcoming U.S. Nationals, a road course and an oval track where the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series used to race, is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation.

The first phase is focused on the drag strip.

Future plans call for improvements to the 0.686-mile oval so that it can host more stock car races.

“I think it’s no secret that we’d like to see other forms of stock car racing, be it different forms of NASCAR racing that come back out here,” Kasey Coler, the track’s general manager, told the newspaper. “That’s long term what we’d like to see.”

5. Did you know …

Darlington Raceway is Ryan Newman’s best track based on average finish. He has an average finish of 11.68 there. His next best track is Rockingham. He had an average finish of 12.4 there.

Since 2009, Newman and Denny Hamlin have the most top-10 finishes at Darlington Raceway with seven each. Next are Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. with six each.

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