Stewart balances personal bliss, professional angst

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Tony Stewart is mad – what else is brand-new? – and desires the record corrected concerning current company choices.

He likewise remains in love – wait, who? Smoke? – and 5 months far from his 50th birthday discovers himself better in his individual life than ever previously.

However even as he’s settled into a joyous regimen with drag racer Leah Pruett, a relationship that started early in the pandemic when Stewart’s busy schedule was unexpectedly wiped tidy, he can’t ignore the criticism being lobbed his method.

It was him, he firmly insists, not NASCAR, who didn’t restore the Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway. And he attempted to sign Kyle Larson to Stewart-Haas Racing however could not get partner approval on the NASCAR motorist suspended for the majority of 2020 for utilizing a racial slur.

Openly, fans left unhappy talk about his social networks posts. Independently, his precious sprint automobile neighborhood whispered and questioned how Stewart blew 2 offers.

Stewart comprehends being rebuffed on finalizing Larson, despite the fact that that knocked the brakes on Stewart’s effort to assist a buddy reanimate his profession while including a leading NASCAR skill to SHR’s four-car company. Business make hard company choices and Larson, because signed by Hendrick Motorsports, still needs to redeem himself to corporations that pay the racing expenses.

However the Truck Series fiasco is one Stewart can’t release. He’s heard a lot of individuals state it was NASCAR that left Eldora, the Ohio dirt track Stewart owns, after an eight-year collaboration. It was Stewart’s group that got a dirt track put on the NASCAR nationwide schedule, purchased capital enhancements at the center and developed among the most popular occasions on the Truck Series schedule.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Stewart stated his objective had actually constantly been to utilize the Truck Series occasion as evidence that Xfinity and Cup can race on dirt and must race at Eldora. However 2 days prior to NASCAR launched the Cup schedule in September, Stewart got a pointer that Bristol Motor Speedway was going to change its center into a dirt track for its very first 2021 Cup race.

”I felt like I’d been mule-kicked in the gut,” Stewart told the AP.

Incensed that not a single NASCAR executive had given him a heads-up, he immediately told his staff to tear up the sanctioning agreement he’d yet to sign for the 2021 Truck Series race.

A short dialogue with NASCAR finally began, and Stewart took the weekend to calm down. His staff looked at the numbers and, even though the trucks were profitable for the track, the race ranked only fourth on Eldora’s events – while requiring double the effort and sweat equity.

When he reconvened with NASCAR after a few days to think, Stewart said he was direct.

”I asked if Eldora was under consideration for an Xfinity or Cup race in the future, and I was told not at this time,” Stewart said. ”So I said we were done.”

Some believe NASCAR pulled the race from Eldora or that NASCAR moved the Truck Race to Knoxville Raceway to spite Stewart, but he’s adamant neither is true.

”This was entirely our decision and people need to understand. I am extremely frustrated as a track owner that there was zero communication from NASCAR,” he said. ”Nobody ever had any conversation with me about Eldora or Cup on dirt until the deal with Bristol was about to be announced.”

He added he was also ignored when he inquired about his eligibility for next month’s exhibition Busch Clash on the road course at Daytona International Speedway. Stewart said he absolutely wanted to run the race, but no one at NASCAR followed up with the three-time Cup champion.

Stewart, feted as a first-ballot inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last January in one of the final industry-wide events prior to the pandemic, now feels snubbed by the series he’s been devoted to for more than two decades.

He has plenty on his plate, though, and has become the T-shirt and jeans version of Roger Penske with his motorsports portfolio. He’s got a full 2021 schedule of sprint car races that starts this weekend, full ownership of Eldora and partial ownership of Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway and Macon (Ill.) Speedway. Stewart also owns a World of Outlaws team and is the series owner of both the All Star Circuit of Champions and a grassroots racing series he renamed the All Star Circuit of Champions TQ Midgets.

This year will also mark a new venture with Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham on the Superstar Racing Experience aimed at attracting all-stars no longer competing full-time. The six-race, short-track series will air on Saturday nights on CBS, with Stewart competing alongside Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Bobby Labonte, Mark Webber and other big names from various disciplines.

He scoffs at a false narrative spreading that Eldora was punished by NASCAR for Stewart’s SRX involvement – ”If people are worried about Ray Evernham, me and six races, they’ve got bigger things to worry about,” he said – and notes that SRX is racing at both Eldora and Knoxville, the lone dirt track on the Truck Series schedule.

All his business dealings, and next month’s start of SHR’s NASCAR season, have Stewart spread very thin when he’s trying to prioritize someone else in his life for the very first time. He and Pruett were introduced in 2019 via FaceTime by drag racing legend Don Prudhomme. They didn’t meet in person until they wound up at the same motorsports event appearance, and their first date was the week before the pandemic shut down the country in March.

With nowhere to be for the first time in his life as a racer, Stewart accepted Pruett’s invitation to spend four days with friends at Lake Havasu in Arizona. He stayed for four months, dragged her to short tracks across Oklahoma and Texas when his racing schedule resumed, then became a constant spectator at her events when NHRA started.

Stewart is adapting to life as the supportive spectator at Pruett’s occasions, but his need to understand Pruett’s form of racing led him to two recent sessions at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School. The two are diligently working on a master calendar of all their events because Stewart hopes to attend the majority of her NHRA races.

His first conflict comes at NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500, where he’s hoping COVID-19 procedures have relaxed enough to allow him into the garage and around his team. Stewart has not been inside the NASCAR bubble with SHR since the Las Vegas race last February. But the 500 is also Feb. 14 and he’s not sure how that will fly with Pruett on their first Valentine’s Day together.

”My personal life is the best it’s ever been, by far,” he stated. ”She gets me. And I enjoy going to her events and being the one doing the supporting. I mean, if she wanted me to support her at basket-weaving competitions I probably wouldn’t enjoy it, however I am very happy with this relationship and where my life is right now.”

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long included to this report.