NASCAR Hall Of Famer Tony Stewart Set To Compete In Full NHRA Season

Tony Stewart just can’t seem to stay out of a racecar it seems. The NASCAR Hall of Famer, three-time NASCAR Champion, dirt and open wheel racer turned team owner in NASCAR, and the NHRA announced Tuesday that he will compete an entire season in a Top Alcohol dragster in the NHRA Lucas Oil Racing series this season.

Stewart is married to Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett, a 10-time winner in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. His NHRA team made its NHRA debut last season and placed both Pruett and her Funny Car teammate, Matt Hagan, in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship.

The Indiana native, who also has titles in IndyCar and USAC, also made his competitive debut in the NHRA last year after attending two multi-day sessions at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and completing a handful of tests over the last two years in both a Top Alcohol dragster and a Top Fuel dragster.

In his debut last season, Stewart advanced to the finals at the NHRA event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway taking home second place. The NHRA Lucas Oil Racing series is a lower tier series akin to the NASCAR Xfinity series. The Sportsman series features eight categories, highlighted by the 270+ mph Top Alcohol dragsters, the stepping-stone division into the nitro categories of Top Fuel and Funny Car in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.

The year he will run the full schedule with McPhillips Racing who fielded the car he raced last October.

“I am super excited about the season,” Stewart said in a press release. “It’s been a long winter and I think what’s made it feel even longer is the fact that we’ve been working on putting this package together with the McPhillips family to expand on what we did at Las Vegas last year and get back in the seat.

“I want to keep learning about the sport and have the opportunity to go compete more this year with a team I really enjoy. To be able to go to Vegas last year with the McPhillips family was really special. Pops (Rich McPhillips) and Richie (McPhillips Jr.) are an unbelievable family to drive for. Everyone on the crew is a fun group of guys to race with. It’s nerve-wracking to try and do something different, but when you have a team like what the McPhillips Racing team has, it makes everything a lot easier.”

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Stewart who has won in everything he’s raced, hopes to add NHRA wins and perhaps an NHRA title to his already remarkable resume. Each Top Alcohol Dragster driver can earn points at their first ten national events. Their best six national finishes from their eligible points earning events will constitute their NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national championship points total.

“It’s hard to sit there and know what expectations we should have for the year,” Stewart said. “I think as long as I keep learning more and more as I go by trying to be more consistent with driving the car, keep it in the groove, trying to stay consistent on reaction times and improve reaction times, those are all goals for me. I want to keep learning and get better every weekend and every race we go to.”

Stewart’s races will begin with the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, followed by the NHRA Winternationals at Pomona Dragstrip, the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte (N.C) Dragway, the NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, the NHRA Nationals at Heartland Motorsports Park, the NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, the NHRA U.S Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, the NHRA Carolina Nationals at Carolina Dragway, the Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the NHRA Finals at Pomona Dragstrip.

In addition to those National events, Stewart will also compete in select races in the Divisional Series, starting with the Division 2 Baby Gators, March 1-5 at Gainesville Raceway.

“Getting prepared for this season over the winter has been about trying to understand what the schedule is going to look like,” Stewart said.

“I’m just trying to prepare for every racetrack we go to – the shutdown areas and which way to turn off the racetrack. Just simple things and small details that the people that have been in this sport for years already know. That’s what this sport is all about, small details. Preparing for the season is thinking about all the small details it takes to be successful.

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“You compete against so many talented people like Madison (Payne) at Las Vegas last year. There was no disgrace in finishing second to her because she is a great race car driver. It was an honor to be as close to her as we were in our first event. There are a bunch of great drivers and teams in that class, and they really made me feel welcome. That’s one of the things I’m so excited about is that they make you feel like you’re a part of the family.”

Support for the effort will come Mobil 1. Stewart won his third and final NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2011 with Mobil 1 as both a sponsor and technical partner.

“We’ve been there for Tony’s first championship as a NASCAR Cup Series team owner, his first time driving an F1 car, and his first time in an A/Fuel dragster,” said Rob Shearer, ExxonMobilXOM
Director Global Lubricants Marketing Services and Sponsorships. “When Tony said this is what he wanted to do next, we weren’t about to miss supporting him as he gets better acquainted with the water box this year.”

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For Stewart his NHRA rookie season will give him an opportunity to add race wins and a title to his already legendary career.

“It’s been like being a little kid all over again,” Stewart said. “When I was racing go karts, I couldn’t wait for the winter to be over so I could go racing. That’s where I’m at all over again. I’m going to have great teammates in Matt Cummins and Jasmine Salinas. They are two people that have won a lot of races and championships. Having them as teammates will be an asset. The hard part is sometimes I’ll have to race them for the win. Hopefully we don’t get paired up until the end of the day and it’s a win for the team as a whole. I’m excited and honored to be a part of the NHRA.”