Wednesday’s roundup: A ‘frustrating’ year for Stewart

Jim Utter
The Charlotte Observer

A restful, entertaining offseason left Tony Stewart beaming with optimism for the season ahead.

But that was in January, during the annual preseason media tour.

This is now.

Through 18 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Stewart has one top-10 finish, a sixth at Bristol, Tenn. He is 28th in the series standings, which may not sound like much, but at one point he was 36th.

Stewart, who took questions for nearly 30 minutes Tuesday from NASCAR media on a teleconference call, admitted his optimism faded after the season’s first handful of races.

“It did. I wish I could say ‘No, it didn’t,’ ” Stewart said. “But it did. The whole year has been frustrating. It seem just seems everywhere we go we just seem to fight the same battle.

“That’s what’s been frustrating for the whole No. 14 car. We’re trying a ton of things and we can’t seem to find anything that really moves the needle, or something that makes significant change. It just seems the further we go into the season, the more frustrating it gets.”

Stewart entered the 2015 season after one of the most difficult years of his career.

At a dirt track in upstate New York early last August, a sprint car driven by Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr., who was walking on the track while the race was under caution. Stewart elected to sit out the next three Sprint Cup series races.

He returned Aug. 31 at Atlanta. On Sept. 24, a grand jury declined to indict him in the incident.

In the weeks afterward, Stewart and his No. 14 Chevrolet team slowly began to regain some semblance of consistent performance on the track.

That built his optimism entering the new season.

Even with a litany of discouraging performances this season, Stewart has hope. He is back in the top 30 of driver points, so a win would still give him a spot in the championship Chase.

“One race could change our whole season,” he said.

New qualifying at MIS

NASCAR will use the superspeedway qualifying format at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week and Michigan International Speedway next month.

Based on a random draw at Indianapolis, cars will line up on pit road for the first round and NASCAR officials will release drivers at a predetermined interval. Officials can allow more than one car on the track at a time, but officials will likely ensure a second car won’t impede or help the one it follows on track.

There will be a 10-minute break between rounds, with the fastest 12 from the first round advancing. Starting positions 1-12 will be determined by the fastest laps in the second session.

Associated Press contributed

Sprint Cup

New Hampshire 301

Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (oval, 1.058 miles), Loudon, N.H.

Schedule: Friday, practice (NBCSN, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.), qualifying (NBCSN, 4:30-6 p.m.); Saturday, practice (NBCSN, 12:30-1:30 p.m.); Sunday, race, 1:30 p.m. (NBCSN, 1-5 p.m.)

Distance: 318.46 miles (300 laps)

Last year: Brad Keselowski completed an Xfinity-Cup weekend sweep for the third of his six 2014 victories.

Xfinity

Lakes Region 200

Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (oval, 1.058 miles)

Schedule: Friday, practice (NBCSN, 1-2 p.m., 3-4:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (NBCSN, 11 a.m.12:30 p.m.), race, 4 p.m. (NBCSN, 3:30-6:30 p.m.)

Distance: 211.6 miles (200 laps)

IndyCar

Iowa Corn 300

Track: Iowa Speedway (oval, 0.875 miles), Newton, Iowa

Schedule: Friday, practice; Saturday, qualifying (NBCSN, 6:30-8 p.m.), race, 8:45 p.m. (NBCSN, 8-11 p.m.)

Distance: 262.5 miles (300 laps)

Last year: Ryan Hunter-Reay gave Andretti Autosport its fifth straight victory at the track.