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Tony Stewart Makes First-Round Exit at Winternationals

The 64th NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip was a weekend of intense competition and unexpected challenges, especially for Tony Stewart, the driver of the Mobil 1 Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster. Despite showing promise and determination, Stewart faced a series of hurdles that ultimately led to an early exit from the event, highlighting the unpredictable nature of drag racing.

The weekend started with Stewart earning the No. 9 provisional qualifying position during Q1 on Friday, posting a time of 4.839 seconds at a speed of 148.95 mph. However, his attempt to improve his standing on Saturday during Q2 was thwarted by a timing system malfunction, resulting in an invalid run and a No. 13 qualifying position. Further complications arose when Q3 on Saturday was canceled due to weather, limiting Stewart’s opportunities to climb the rankings.

Come Sunday’s eliminations, Stewart faced Steve Torrence. Stewart’s run of 8.841 seconds at 76.15 mph was overshadowed by Torrence’s blistering 3.695 seconds at 336.65 mph, marking the end of Stewart’s campaign at the Winternationals.

“Steve is a strong competitor and that CAPCO team is one that has proven performance,” said Stewart. “They are multi-time world champions and you know if you have to line up against those guys, you have to be on your game. I feel really good from the driving side. Steve had a .061 reaction time and I cut a .068, so we were right in the ballpark there. Unfortunately, we smoked the tires about 100 feet out. I think we’re experiencing growing pains right now.

“As easy as it is to look at our team and all they accomplished last year and say ‘They should be right back where they left off,’ unfortunately it’s a different car. I’m 50 to 55 pounds heavier than my wife (Leah Pruett) and there are a couple other variables that are different with this chassis. It’s a tough challenge for Neal (Strausbaugh – crew chief) and Mike (Domagala – co-crew chief) right now to figure out what the car needs with me driving it. As far as the driving side goes, I’m getting more and more comfortable and gaining more confidence. I talked to Steve Torrence a lot before our first round. I feel like I’m respected in this class now and have been accepted by my other drivers and peers, so that’s important to me as a driver. From the performance side, it’s constantly a moving target. It’s part of what happens in motorsports. Neal and Mike are really smart guys, so I know they’ll figure it out. I love working with them and this whole team. It was awesome to be able to fly the black and gold colors for Mobil 1 and their 50th anniversary. I wish I could have taken them further through the day on Sunday,” Stewart added.

The event also marked a significant milestone for Stewart and his sponsor, Mobil 1, as they debuted a special black and gold livery to commemorate Mobil 1’s 50th anniversary. Stewart will run the special livery again at the NHRA FallNationals.

This story was originally published on March 27, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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