For the first time since Nov. 20, 2016 when the checkered flag waved on the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Tony Stewart will be back in a stock car.
On Thursday, Oct. 31 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Stewart will strap back into his No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Mustang from Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to make a demonstration run on the 3.426-mile, 20-turn track in advance of the United States Grand Prix. But unlike any other time he drove in the NASCAR Cup Series in a career spanning 18 years that included three championships, 49 points-paying victories and more than 12,800 laps led, Stewart’s Ford Mustang will be outfitted with a passenger seat as he will show Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen how to wheel a 3,200-pound racecar around America’s only purpose-built Formula One track.
"It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been three years since I last drove a stock car, but seeing some of these road-course races – especially the Roval at Charlotte – have piqued my interest a bit, so this is a good way to sort of satisfy that hunger," said Stewart, whose racing exploits earned him membership into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020, where he will be officially inducted on Jan. 31. "I’ve never been to COTA. All I know about it is what I’ve seen on TV and on my iRacing simulator. I kind of like that. Even after two decades in NASCAR, there’s still new stuff to experience. I haven’t driven that racetrack and Kevin and Romain haven’t ever driven a stock car. We’ll figure it out together."
While Stewart retired as a NASCAR driver following the 2016 season finale at Homestead, he did not retire from racing. The 48-year-old from Columbus, Indiana, has returned to his first passion – sprint car racing. Stewart has won 16 sprint car races in various series since 2017, including 10 this year in a schedule that has Stewart in a sprint car for nearly 100 races.
"People sometimes say, ‘We miss seeing you behind the wheel," and I’m like, ‘Well, you’re going to the wrong places now’," Stewart said. "I’m racing 100 times a year. You’ve just got to come watch me in a different car."
It was in a sprint car where Stewart last served as a driving coach to Haas F1 Team when he showed Magnussen how to handle a 1,350-pound sprint car with 750 horsepower.
"I found my feet in that sprint car last October pretty quickly thanks to his advice, and also thanks to him jumping in the car and showing how it’s done before I got in," said Magnussen prior to last year’s United States Grand Prix when he stopped by Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, North Carolina, for his dirt-track tutorial. "I had a great time with Tony. He’s a great driving instructor and he knows his way around these things. His experience and knowledge when it comes to stock cars is probably just as impressive."
When it comes to driving a racecar with a roof and fenders, both Magnussen and Grosjean have limited experience. Grosjean drove a Ford GT1 in the 2010 FIA GT1 championship while Magnussen drove a GT2 car once and tested a DTM car, but he knows there’s a stark difference between those cars and a stock car.
"A DTM car is very aerodynamic," Magnussen said. "They have a lot of downforce. A stock car hardly has any downforce. So, I don’t have any idea how it’ll be. I’ve never driven a NASCAR before. I’m pretty certain it’s going to be very different to the other car I drive around COTA. It’s going to be a very interesting experience. A NASCAR is such an iconic racecar. I’ve always been eager to try one. Of course, it’s usually in its element on an oval, but they do race on road courses, as well. It’ll be interesting to have a go and have a bit of fun."
Despite his lack of stock-car experience, Grosjean is well aware of how different a stock car will feel, particularly when it comes to slowing it down.
"I think we just need to slam the brakes a bit earlier than we do with a Formula One car," Grosjean said. "We’ll see how the engine responds to throttle application. I can’t wait. The sound of it’s going to be great. I think it’s going to be a good experience. I think having Tony Stewart helping us and giving us advice is going to be bloody amazing."
When Stewart’s work at COTA is completed, he’ll jet over to Fort Worth, Texas, where by day he’ll be a NASCAR team owner and at night a sprint car driver.
Stewart co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, hence the connection to Haas F1 Team. SHR’s four NASCAR Cup Series drivers – Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suárez – are all competing in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. SHR also fields two NASCAR Xfinity Series teams for drivers Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe, who will race on Saturday at Texas in the undercard O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
But before any of those cars turn a wheel on the 1.5-mile oval, Stewart will turn left to go right on the .4-mile Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track. Stewart will climb behind the wheel of the same kind of sprint car Netflix viewers saw in Episode 9 of last year’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive series where Stewart showed Magnussen the fundamentals of dirt-track racing.
"It’s the best of both worlds for me," said Stewart, who will compete Thursday and Friday night in the Texas Sprint Car Nationals. "I get to be with our NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams during the day, but each night I get to go over to the Dirt Track. It’s fun for our crew guys too. They’re racers who have dirt-track blood in their veins. They come over and watch the race. It just makes for a perfect weekend."
It’s part of an intense four days in the Lone Star State beginning with Stewart’s stock car return at COTA on Thursday and includes an induction into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame on Saturday.
"It does mean a lot to me," said Stewart about this most recent accolade. "It’s nothing you think about as a driver. It’s not your aspiration while you’re driving to be in the Hall of Fame. When you’re a driver, all you want to do is win big races and win championships, and to still have that opportunity and still be able to race and compete at the same time as we’re joining the Hall of Fame is pretty cool."