Offseason testing doesn’t usually
attract much of a crowd, but Sept. 22 was
a happy exception as IndyCars took to the
hallowed grounds of Elkhart Lake, Wis.’s
Road America for the first time since
2007, in preparation for next June’s
Verizon IndyCar Series race there. And
the drivers were as enthusiastic as the
fans in attendance.
“It’s been 13 years for me, but it’s as
smoke knows when to quit
fun as ever and I was thinking on my first
lap that this is the kind of place we should
Perhaps the biggest surprise about
Tony Stewart’s announcement that 2016
would be his final year of full-time
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition
was the fairly muted reaction. Perhaps it
reflected widespread understanding that
he was in need of a change?
Since storming to his third Cup title
with five wins as an owner-driver in 2011,
Stewart has added just four wins total,
and none in the past two seasons. His
involvement last year in a sprint car accident
that led to the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr.,
Stewart won three
Cup races in his first
season in ’99 (ABOVE)
and went on to add
three NASCAR titles
to his ’97 IRL crown.
for which a grand jury declined to press
criminal charges against him, also clearly
sapped his spirit. Yet Stewart seemed
re-invigorated by his decision.
“It was a choice that is 100 percent
mine, no pressure from anybody,”
Stewart declared. “If anything, it’s been
the opposite – more people trying to
talk me out of it.
“Everyone in their career makes a
decision when it’s time for a change. I
think deep down you know when it’s
time to do something different.”
Clint Bowyer faced a potential career crisis
with Michael Waltrip Racing’s closure at
year’s end. All good though: Bowyer will
spend a year in the HScott Chevy before
taking over for the retiring Tony Stewart.
the mayor gets
positive from Road
America testing was
the return to the
cockpit of James
Hinchcliffe, just four
months after his
severe injuries at
Indy. “I can’t stop
smiling, brother!” he
said. He had plenty
of company there.
be racing at,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s
Tony Kanaan, who ran Road America in
CART from 1999-2002 before going to
the Indy Racing League. “We don’t have
as much power as the old days, but the
cars are quicker through the corners and
you are hustling.”
The drivers were almost as stoked
about the turnout as they were the track.
“It was a great little crowd – the cars
were lined up to get in and parked all the
way up the hill,” noted Graham Rahal.
Unofficially, Ganassi’s Scott Dixon topped
the times at 1m43.002s – 1.5sec off
Sebastien Bourdais’ 2007 pole time with a
Panoz-Cosworth Champ Car on option tires.
The official track record is 1m39.866s,
set by Dario Franchitti in 2000.
“I think our minimum speed in the
IndyCar gets some old-school mojo with a return to Road America
Carousel was 136mph and that was
boogeying,” said Rahal. “These [Dallaras]
were also pretty quick in a straight line. It
was awesome driving around here again.”
Awesome watching, too.
a breath of fResh AIR
Rahal found the “National Park
of Speed” just as breathtaking
from inside the cockpit.
Like Jeff Gordon did, Stewart
will saddle up for one more year.
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