Stewart adding to varied resume with first NHRA outing

NHRA

Stewart adding to varied resume with first NHRA outing

NHRA

Stewart adding to varied resume with first NHRA outing

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The list of cars Tony Stewart has driven across the motorsport landscape is as impressive as it is extensive.

But this weekend, Stewart will experience a new thrill and get a different dose of adrenaline when he drives a Top Alcohol dragster in the NHRA Nevada National Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I think everything I’ve ever driven in my entire life, it was a rolling start, first of all, but the second part is your eyes are automatically in the direction that you’re going,” Stewart said on Tuesday. “You’re seeing where you’re going before you hit the gas.

“Where NHRA, it’s a standing start and when that light changes, you’re hitting the gas, and then it’s trying to get your eyes to get off the tree that’s off center and get your eyes centered up on where you’re traveling.

“I think that’s been the biggest thing I’ve noticed, and from the driving side has been way different from anything I’ve ever done. Obviously, the Alcohol car leaves really fast. The Top Fuel car leaves really fast. It’s literally an exercise of trying to get your eyes to go from the tree and get focused on your mark.”

Stewart has done numerous test days in both Top Fuel and Top Alcohol on his way to getting an NHRA license. He also attended Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School. The final push to try competing for real was after testing at Maple Grove Raceway with the McPhillips family and Richie McPhillips Sr. told Stewart that he looked ready to go.

Part of the reason Stewart started testing was wanting to understand what his drivers, Leah Pruett (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car), experience. But Stewart also admits he’s not a very good spectator and got the urge to do it himself.

A three-time NASCAR champion, SRX champion, IndyCar champion and winner of races on dirt and asphalt, in stock cars, open wheel, and more, what comes next for Stewart is like nothing before. Not only from a speed perspective but all natural instincts behind the wheel. And that means Stewart, in testing and off-track prep, has been working to retrain his brain.

“The thing with the Top Fuel car, when I started getting some test laps in that car, the hardest part for me was literally getting my brain to process the information as fast as it’s happening,” Stewart said. “It’s hard to explain that to people. But literally, you step on the gas in the Top Fuel car and get to the 330 cone and your brain is 100 feet behind the car.

“Your hands and your rear end are feeling everything the car is doing in time, but your brain is sitting there trying to process everything that has happened in that first 330 feet, and that’s been the biggest challenge for me.”

If all goes well, Stewart is open to running more national events in the future, but this weekend will be about taking in the experience and seeing if it’s something he could handle or want to do more of and even full-time. Stewart has very simple expectations for himself in getting through the qualifying rounds and seeing what comes of eliminations. Las Vegas will be the first time Stewart has lined up against someone and not just done a solo testing run.

If he were to get knocked out in the first round, Stewart wouldn’t be disappointed. Furthermore, Stewart doesn’t believe his performance this weekend, if deemed unsuccessful for one of the great drivers in all motor sports, will be a blemish on his career.

“This sport is so different from anything I’ve ever done before,” Stewart said. “Just the fact that we’re doing in a lot of people’s eyes and judging off the messages I got yesterday, text message wise from competitors, not only from NHRA but from the sprint car ranks and NASCAR drivers and crew guys. Everybody knows this is a learning experience this weekend. I think you have to set realistic expectations. I think if we advance to the second round or the third round, I think every time we make it – if we make it – it’s a bonus.

“I think just having the opportunity to have three qualifying rounds, and one elimination round with somebody in another lane is just another step forward in learning whether I really want to do this down the road or not. Yeah, I’m competitive, and when I get up there each round and each session, I want to do the best job I can do, and I don’t do it half-ass.

“I’m going to give it 100%, but we’ll learn really quickly what I need to work on, if there are big things I need to change. This is how we’re going to learn what those things are. At some point, you got to jump in the water and figure out how to swim. This is that moment.”

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