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Tony Stewart Beating NHRA’s Big Guns en Route to Hometrack Victory Is the Starting Point of an Uphill Road

Published 04/09/2024, 12:09 AM EDT

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NASCAR legend turned NHRA ‘rookie’, Tony Stewart finally won not one but two rounds in only his third outing, replacing wife Leah Pruett in the 2024 Top Fuel category. Smoke’s win was certainly sweet because. First, it all happened near TSR’s newest base of operations in Lake Havasu City, about 210-odd miles from the iconic Firebird Motorsports Park in Phoenix.

Second, he beat NHRA heavyweights Brittany Force and Steve Torrence on his way to a semi-final loss against Justin Ashley, an 11-time Top Fuel race winner. Nevertheless, with teammate Matt Hagan also unable to secure a race win in Arizona this past weekend, the future can only be better for Tony Stewart’s NHRA advances this year.

Tony Stewart tackles Top Fuel challenges in Arizona

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This marks the second time Smoke lost out to Ashley of Scag Racing after his first-round elimination at the Gatornationals last month. A ride in the 11,000 dragsters has been challenging, to say the least, but after a qualifying heartbreak at Pomona, Stewart certainly seems to be on an upward trajectory. Nevertheless, Smoke seems to be battling aerodynamics and weight distribution issues, an approximate 55-lb weight difference, courtesy of Leah Pruett’s apparent absence from last year. 

It is safe to say; that fortunes have been improving for the TSR Direct Connection team backed by Dodge/SRT. Post-race in a statement to Autoweek, Stewart had rightfully declared that “this was something the team needed.” However, as car chief Ryan McGilvry stated in candid revelations, “He’s been driving his a*s off. Everybody knows he can do it.”

After three showcases in two months, Smoke now ironically trails 2-time Top Fuel champ Brittany Force in the unofficial points standings by only two points. Stewart currently ranks ninth, waiting on the Four-Wide Nationals in Nevada next weekend. On the other hand, his Funnycar aspirant, Matt Hagan, has been a consistent force this season in a bid to reclaim his 2023 glory at the Strip on Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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Matt Hagan aims for Funny Car glory after TSR faces Force family foes

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4x world champ, Hagan took his Funny car to the quarterfinals at the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Florida this March. Officially commencing his 2024 advances, Brittany Force’s 16x NHRA championship-winning father, John, spoiled Hagan’s attempt at a first-place finish at a rain-delayed Winternationals final at Chandler this weekend. This marked John Force’s 156th win in NHRA.

On Sunday, Stewart’s teammate made it through the first round, to battle a blistering Daniel Wilkerson, who put up speeds of 324.28 mph compared to Hagan’s run of 310.48, rendering Hagan unable to make it to the quarter-finals. One of the reasons he explains to Drag Illustrated reads, “We had hotter weather conditions than we’re used to here in Phoenix, so unfortunately it was a short day for us.” Nevertheless, laying out a solid conclusion, he also states, “We will apply what we learned to move forward. I want to put this Dodge//SRT Hellcat back in the winner’s circle soon.”

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Adding to that sentiment, the NHRA website also quoted a fired-up Tony Stewart, eager to prove himself: “We’ll just keep digging. I’m looking forward to next week.” The NHRA season is officially running in full swing.

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Written by:

Amman Augustin

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Amman Augustin is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. With his coverage majorly focusing on the lavish off-track lives of drivers, Amman often brings the lesser-known side of Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick to their fans. Another aspect of NASCAR where he flourishes is covering rivalries between competitors.
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Edited by:

Tushhita Barua