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Tony Stewart Submits His NHRA Team’s Reins to Wife Leah Pruett in 4 Words After Opening Struggles

Published 03/25/2024, 4:52 AM EDT

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USA Today via Reuters

Last December, Leah Pruett made the decision to step away from the NHRA drag racing series to focus on starting a family with Tony Stewart. Just last month at the PRO Superstar Shootout, Leah Pruett made her “last” lap in the 11,000-hp TSR dragster, announcing that her husband, Tony Stewart would take her seat temporarily for the following NHRA events. 

But after two botched runs this season in NHRA, Smoke thinks Leah might be better suited for it in the long run. While the SHR team owner didn’t make any direct statements, he reminded everyone that his role is only temporary. 

Tony Stewart knows Leah’s place is not his to take

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Stewart has made two appearances so far in the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series. The Gatornationals at Gainesville, FL a few weeks ago, saw him lose out to Justin Ashley of SCAG Racing in the first round of eliminations. However, as he revved up the 11,000s for the Winternationals in Pomona this weekend, Stewart made some interesting claims about “caretaking” Pruett’s “personal” dragster, until his semi-retired wife decides to return to the drag strips of NHRA.

“Listen, I was just hoping I was still going to have a job after Gainesville… I think if you asked Leah, she’s got a different idea than what I have, but literally on my radar right now, I’m just driving this car until she’s ready to come back.” Stewart told Autoweek in a recent statement.

Smoke explained that “as soon as” Pruett wants to “come back,” he would give the wheel to her. He concluded, “I don’t care if it has my name on it. I don’t care if the trailer has my name on it. That’s her race car. That’s her race team over there.” 

In December 2023, Pruett had a bittersweet moment as she decided to step away from her driving career shortly after the PRO Superstar Shootout to prioritize starting a family. She announced, “This is an incredibly personal decision, and what led to making this decision are other personal situations that have happened in my life and our lives,” Pruett had told The Associated Press in an interview with Stewart.

Stewart had also said that his goal was “to not suck, to not get fired by my wife and to not kill myself driving this thing,” during the December interview. But it seems he is eager to hand over the responsibilities once his wife is ready to return.

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Are these signs of a legend mellowing into other responsibilities, as he continues his journey on the path to becoming a true racing icon? It very well could be. However, Tony Stewart has had quite the contrary effect on NHRA’s collective popularity, according to insiders within TSR.

Teammates taking away Smoke’s shine at TSR

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His 4-time NHRA Funny Car World Champion teammate, Matt Hagan had told The Sun in interviews earlier this week that Stewart’s resounding popularity in the motorsport world is “filtering a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of people, and a lot of energy just for him being here.” Considering his decades of experience learning how to market the best of the best, including himself in the premier stock-car racing series of the world. Stewart’s “pull” can only guarantee that he very well may be the “new John Force of the NHRA.”

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Nevertheless, Hagan, last year’s victor in the Winternationals, qualified 1st for the Funny Car category in this edition, registering blistering speeds of 330.15 miles per hour. His superstar teammate, on the other hand, had his 3.737 seconds start disqualified for a “faulty timing” system. These woes are only temporary, with Smoke waiting on Leah, as SHR roars in the background for NASCAR glory one more time.

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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:

Ranvijay Singh