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NASCAR champ Stewart continues to learn as Top Fuel rookie — PHOTOS

As three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart gets more comfortable in his rookie season running in Top Fuel, he said he looks for any advantage he can find.

This weekend in Las Vegas, Stewart said he feels he can erase the gap between the more experienced Top Fuel drivers at one of the two four-lane events on the NHRA circuit.

“When you get people out of their comfort zone, it takes their advantage and my disadvantage and it kind of evens that out,” Stewart said. “I like it. I look forward to it.”

Stewart posted the eighth-fastest time at 3.852 seconds at 323.5 mph on the first day of qualifying at Friday’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He’s in his first full NHRA season running in the Top Fuel class for his team, Tony Stewart Racing.

“I’ve been chomping at the bit since last week to get here,” Stewart said. “I like it when people are uncomfortable and I get comfortable, and then good things happen for us. So if we can get this car to go like we hope it does, we’re going to have a fun weekend.”

The three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion — whose team also fields a Funny Car driven by Matt Hagan — raced in the Top Alcohol class last season.

Stewart won his first career NHRA event in Las Vegas at last year’s Four-Wide Nationals in the Top Alcohol final. With the win, Stewart became the first driver to win at the LVMS superspeedway, drag strip, dirt track and Bullring.

“Winning the Top Alcohol race here, that was big. (LVMS) is one of my favorite tracks,” Stewart said. “I think it’s the same thing when I won at Richmond my first time in a NASCAR Cup car and that was my favorite Cup track. It’s the first place you ever win at.”

In the offseason, it was announced that Stewart would make the jump to Top Fuel to replace his wife, Leah Pruett, who said she was stepping back to focus on starting a family with Stewart.

Last season, Stewart won twice and made four final rounds to finish second in the overall Top Alcohol point standings. Stewart said learning the procedures and routines in Top Alcohol last season has helped him learn more of the basics of drag racing.

“Now, it’s just the difference between the alcohol car and the Top Fuel car,” Stewart said. “It’s not learning the whole thing from scratch all over.”

If there’s one thing Stewart is used to, it’s racing in different series. Stewart grew up racing go-karts and raced in IndyCar before racing in NASCAR for 18 seasons, and he’s competed in various dirt racing series.

“The thing that you realize at this stage that helps the learning process is I know every car is different,” Stewart said. “Every car has its own personality. It has the things it likes, it has the things that it doesn’t like.”

Stewart picked up his first elimination round win Sunday at Firebird Motorsports Park in Arizona and advanced to the semifinals. He’s ninth in the Top Fuel overall point standings entering Las Vegas.

Stewart said he and his team still “haven’t really hit on what this car wants yet,” but said this weekend will give them a good base on what it will need for the rest of the season. He said his focus early in the season is to establish consistency and be competitive.

“I’m learning something from it,” Stewart said. “Early in my career and a Top Fuel car, these are the experiences that I have to learn anyway. Does it get frustrating? Yes. But at the same time, there’s positives that are coming out of the negatives.”

Qualifying results

Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III said he just wanted to complete both of his qualifying runs Friday. He wasn’t necessarily focused about being the top qualifier.

But right before Tasca made his final qualifying run Friday, Austin Prock ran the fastest time in the lane Tasca was about to run in.

“(Co-crew chief) Aaron Brooks goes in the box, he looks at me and goes, ‘I’m really, really sorry, but we’re going to break out,’” Tasca said.

Tasca ran a qualifying time of 3.931 seconds at 332.02 mph to be the top Funny Car qualifier after both rounds Friday. Prock was bumped to second (3.947, 321.42).

“The spirit was just go down the racetrack,” Tasca said, “and it left and it felt good.”

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta (3.779 seconds, 332.02 mph) was the fastest over Steve Torrence (3.800, 332.75). Jeg Coughlin Jr. was the fastest in Pro Stock at 6.641 seconds (206.89 mph), and Greg Anderson was second (6.657, 205.38).

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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