Stewart needs Kentucky win for career sweep
Tony Stewart is down to his final try at Kentucky Speedway to complete a NASCAR track victory sweep.
The three-time champion has won at every track on the Sprint Cup schedule, with highs of five wins at Watkins Glen and four at Daytona (though not the 500) to one win at six tracks. His latest victory, and 49th overall in the Cup series, came two weeks ago at Sonoma Raceway and snapped an 84-race drought.
His skid at Kentucky isn't quite as lengthy: 0 for 5 dating to the track's inaugural race in 2011.
While Stewart has missed dozens of races the last three years because of injuries and the aftermath of a fatal accident in a sprint car race, he's never missed Kentucky — and just one lap led and no top 10s to show for his effort.
His start Saturday night will mark his 600th in Sprint Cup, good for 24th on the career list.
"While Kentucky doesn't sound like a big deal, when you want to try to win at every track on the schedule, that would make it a big deal," Stewart said. "No matter what happens in the championship, I could say that was perfect."
There is one caveat to the list — Stewart's lone win at Darlington Raceway came in the second-tier Xfinity series. He's never won at Darlington in 23 career Cup starts and has one more chance in the Southern 500 on Sept. 4.
"Jeff Gordon can't say he won at every track he ran at so, if I could win those two in the dream season, that would be awesome for us," Stewart said. "That's a second home track for me. It's closer to where I grew up than Chicago is. I've got a lot of friends who go down to the Kentucky race, so that would be nice to win in front of them."
Kentucky Speedway is about 80 miles from Stewart's home in Columbus, Indiana, and there should be a strong contingent of Hoosiers on hand this weekend to watch him go for win No. 50.
Yes, the checkered flag would be a sweet accomplishment for the driver known as Smoke.
But he needs another solid finish to remain in the top 30 in driver points to earn a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He holds a three-point lead over Brian Scott for 30th. Stewart, who announced last year that 2016 would be his final season as a NASCAR driver, broke his back a week before the season opened and missed the first eight races before returning for a farewell tour.
He can return to race in any kind of series next season — and got a small taste of what is potentially ahead this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Stewart, a two-time Brickyard 400 winner, turned a few laps on a dirt track oval built for him at IMS to honor his short-track racing career. IMS President Doug Boles invited several dirt midget drivers to the track on Tuesday to test out the temporary track.
"I don't think anybody that I know of ever dreamed that we'd see anything like this at IMS," Stewart said. "This could be one of the coolest things that's ever happened to short track racing."
Stewart received a milk jug of dirt as a souvenir from Boles.
"This is as close as I'm going to get to drinking milk here," Stewart said.
He'd come to Indy with his father as a child, dreaming of someday winning an Indianapolis 500. He once said he'd trade all his wins and trophies for just one victory at his beloved IMS. But instead of chugging the traditional milk after an Indy 500 victory, Stewart settled for two wins (2005, 2007) at the Brickyard in NASCAR.
Stewart has accomplished just about every available feat in NASCAR — and a win at Kentucky would make that list of goals that much shorter.
IT'S TIME TO FACE THE MUSIC
Xfinity driver Bubba Wallace was fined $15,000 by NASCAR on Wednesday for a critical tweet following the race at Daytona. Wallace, who had been penalized in the race for not keeping a reasonable speed under caution, was seemingly upset with how Aric Almirola was awarded the victory when the race ended under caution.
"Got the muppets up there officiating tonight! Never know how to react under pressure... Whatta joke," Wallace tweeted.
Wallace's fans enjoyed the social media shot — the post had been retweeted more than 600 times and liked about 1,500 times as of Wednesday afternoon.
Wallace, who drives the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, will not appeal.
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