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Tony Stewart eager to launch drag racing career at LVMS

Updated October 27, 2022 - 12:03 pm

It’s the next-to-last race in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship. And to carry the launching pad analogy a step further, one of motorsports’ most respected champions will be trying to make a successful liftoff in a sportsman class race at this weekend’s Nevada Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I’m too old to race an Indy car. I’m retired from NASCAR and sprint car racing is getting tougher and tougher,” Tony Stewart, who was won championships in each, said about catching the drag racing bug and making his NHRA driving debut in a Top Alcohol dragster.

Stewart, 51, is in his first year as an NHRA team owner. His drivers, wife and Top Fuel contender Leah Pruett and three-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan, will be competing in the pro classes starting on Friday.

If Stewart’s LVMS debut goes as hoped, he could conceivably join them someday soon in a sport where legends such as John Force are still winning races in their 70s.

“I think you’d be hard-pressed in this era to find somebody who has driven as many different race cars as I’ve driven,” said Stewart, who will slide into the cockpit of a 285-mph alcohol dragster for McPhillips Racing. “(But) there’s nothing about this that I’m taking for granted.

“The whole goal of the weekend is getting experience, and we’ll see how much I enjoy it. If I fall in love with it like I think I might, who knows what the future may hold.”

Three other things to look for at the Las Vegas Nationals:

1. Points battles

With the final Countdown race in Pomona, California, paying points and a half, everything still is up for grabs in the NHRA’s four pro classes. But whereas Justin Ashley and Erica Enders have opened gaps in Top Fuel and Pro Stock, reigning champion Ron Capps has pulled to within 10 points of three-time titlist Robert Hight in Funny Car following Capps’ recent victory in Texas.

With each of Sunday’s four elimination rounds worth 20 points, this year’s Funny Car championship may not be decided until the last run of the season.

2. Enders’ end game

With a 165-point cushion on second place Aaron Stanfield, Erica Enders could clinch her fifth Pro Stock championship on an LVMS track she practically has owned during her illustrious career, including a 2022 victory in spring’s four-wide race.

Nine of Enders’ 42 wins have come this season, equaling her career single-season output. She also has won nine times in Las Vegas over the years.

3. Speed to burn

Brittany Force (and crew chief Dave Grubnic) own the 10 fastest runs ever made in a Top Fuel dragster, including a 338-mph pass in the 2022 spring race at LVMS and another asphalt blistering run of 338.17 at the 2019 fall event. But temperatures in the low 70s combined with a grippy LVMS track could produce mind-numbing speeds from other competitors.

“This weekend is going to be Disneyland for the crew chiefs,” Funny Car championship contender Capps predicted. “It’s going to be fun for the fans and more stressful for the drivers because it puts the cars closer together in (elapsed time). I don’t doubt you’re going to see track records fall in multiple categories.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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