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via Getty

via Getty

A wave of despair crashed upon the NASCAR community on May 28. Stewart-Haas Racing, a stellar Cup team boasting 69 victories and 2 championships, announced its plans to shutter. Tony Stewart and Gene Haas were compelled to end 15 years of bliss when financial losses came knocking at the door. However, when one door closes, another opens.

The thing is, Stewart is reluctant to open that other door. Being a household name in the NHRA by now, he wields immense regard in the drag racing community. And people of that community, including his wife, expected his NASCAR exit to signify a wider influence in the NHRA. Yet, Stewart has his doubts.

Tony Stewart diverts from Leah’s view

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Stewart has co-owned SHR with Gene Haas since 2009, and after 2024, the team will disband. Similarly, he co-founded the Superstar Racing experience, which shut down after a successful run in 2021-2023. Owning the All-Star Circuit of Champions since 2015, Tony Stewart sold the Sprint Car Series to Kyle Larson and his brother-in-law, Brad Sweet, last year.

Compared to his other ownership endeavors, the press naturally assumed Tony Stewart would expand his NHRA ambitions. The Tony Stewart Racing team in NHRA currently fields Stewart in his wife Leah Pruett’s place and Matt Hagan in the Funny Car category. Holding 12 Career Top Fuel victories and finishing third in the championship standings last year, Pruett is a stellar NHRA icon. She decided to hang up her firesuit last year to start a family, and Stewart took over.

Despite harnessing inspiration from his better half usually, Tony Stewart decided to deflect in one aspect. In a press conference ahead of the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Stewart was asked if he was looking to “expand his footprint” in the NHRA. But he countered ideas of the same. “Right now, I’m just trying to make sure I pay my bills and on time. So, I don’t know. Leah has some interesting ideas, what she wants to do with the whole program when she gets back. I think it’s a terrible idea, but Matt and I have different ideas and we like our ideas. So we’ll see what happens as time goes on.”

Stewart further quipped that he is enjoying the unpredictable nature of his racing ambitions. “It’s kind of fun to not really have a plan right now. But the plan literally is Matt does what he does in the Funny car, and I’m just filling in for Leah till she’s ready to get back in the car. At that point, we’ll figure out what’s next. I normally am the one that comes up with the bad ideas, but there’s a lot of ideas that are in the air.” Speaking of speculation and future ambitions, Tony Stewart recently dispelled rumors surrounding another one of his investments.

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Following news of SHR’s impending shutdown, rumors suggested that he would be selling the Eldora Speedway, too. However, in an interview with FloRacing, he cleared the air around the speedway he purchased from Earl Baltes in 2004. I don’t know who was really bored at home and thought they were going to play a nice practical joke, but this track is not sold, and it is not for sale. This is a tradition with Earl and Berneice that they started back in ’54, and we’re proud to be owners of this race track,” Stewart stated firmly. 

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That said, when it comes to the NHRA, even the motorsport veteran gets cold feet. However, his drag peers are rooting for his inflated presence in the NHRA world.

Top Fuel star wants to see more of Stewart

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Tony Stewart is the epitome of versatility, having a finger in every pie. Being a 3-time NASCAR champion and 1-time IndyCar champion, Stewart fell 21 points short of becoming the first driver to complete the trifecta with an NHRA title last year. Thus, the veteran’s presence carries immense weight wherever he goes, and his NHRA rival completely agrees. 

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13-time NHRA race winner and current Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley roots for Stewart. He wholeheartedly supported whispers of Stewart expanding his NHRA footprint. “Of course. I think Tony is great for the sport. I think he’s a great guy, he’s a great businessman, and he’s a great driver. And just for the whole sport of NHRA drag racing, I think it’s healthy that he’s involved.”

Ashley stressed Stewart’s contributions: “He’s helped to raise the popularity of the sport. I think there’s some people that came to see him that wouldn’t have otherwise come to a drag race before, so I definitely think it’s a good thing.” Yet Ashley’s wishes may not materialize soon as Tony Stewart opposed any rumors of NHRA expansion.