KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (April 26, 2016) – In the nearly 600 races Tony Stewart has started plus the upcoming two decades’ worth of races many expect Ty Dillon will run in his budding racing career, none will likely feature a driver lineup as unique as that of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in Sunday’s GEICO 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Stewart will practice and start the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet in Sunday’s race. The three-time champion will drive until the first caution, when he’ll pull down pit lane and climb out of the car, allowing Dillon to race the remainder of the restrictor-plate race.
The move comes as a way for Stewart to collect driver points in a bid to earn a berth in NASCAR’s 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs while playing it safe with his healing vertebra. Stewart missed the first eight races of the season after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. The prescribed rehabilitation regimen instituted by his doctors following a March 9 evaluation proved successful, allowing the three-time series champion to return last weekend at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, where he finished 19th.
“We’ll start the Talladega race to get the points but, understanding the style of racing and the higher potential of getting involved in an incident, we thought it best to minimize the amount of time I’m in the car,” said three-time-champion Stewart, who announced last year he would retire after the 2016 season. I’ll return full-time at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can my final year of Sprint Cup.”
Last week, NASCAR granted Stewart a medical waiver that made him eligible for the Chase and compete for the series championship. To make the Chase, Stewart will have to race his way in by winning at least once and ending NASCAR’s 26-race regular season in the top 30 in driver points. Right now, Matt Dibenedetto is in 30th place with 123 points. Stewart is 40th with 22 points. Last year, Kyle Busch was 179 points out of 30th place when he got back in the cockpit after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season. Busch went on to win the championship.
Stewart is wasting no time getting up to speed in the No. 14. After driving all three days at Richmond, he and the No. 14 team will participate in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday and Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Dillon, who has split substitute driving duties this year with Brian Vickers, will make his first appearance in a Sprint Cup car at Talladega, but he brings an impressive record of success at the 2.66-mile track in other series. In six NASCAR Xfinity, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA races at Talladega, Dillon has led 131 laps, including a lap in each. Dillon, whose brother Austin will compete in the race on Sunday, won the Truck Series pole in 2012. He also won the ARCA race from the pole in 2011.
Dillon has impressed driving the No. 14 in 2016. He raced for eighth with less than 50 laps remaining at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway April 17 before a late-race accident ruined his bid for a top-10 finish. He finished 17th and 15th in the Atlanta and Phoenix races. He races fulltime in the Xfinity Series for his grandfather’s Richard Childress Racing team and is third in the driver points standings, just 19 points out of first. Dillon will perform double duty this weekend racing in the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity Series race Saturday and the GEICO 500 on Sunday.
Tony Stewart, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What were your thoughts about your comeback race at Richmond last weekend?
“It didn’t feel like our first race together, mainly because of the races that we have been through together this year. I mean, I’ve been to seven of the eight races that I’ve missed. Being on the radio with him (Ty Dillon) and being on the pitbox and communicating with him, it really shortened that learning curve up. I don’t think we really missed anything. I feel like we got off to a really good start together. I don’t think there is a communication gap that we have to worry about.”
What has your time out of the car been like this year?
“I watched the Daytona 500 on television at home with my manager Eddie Jarvis. At the end of the race, I told Eddie, ‘That was a pretty good Daytona 500.’ He asked me why and I said, ‘Well, I didn’t get mad at anyone, nobody is mad at me and I didn’t get wrecked. So I didn’t think that was too bad of a last Daytona 500.’
“I’ve been at every race this year except Daytona. This has kind of given me an opportunity to see what the rest of my career is going to look like after this year. To be at the track talking with each of the SHR teams and our drivers and knowing what is going on is still just as exciting and just as intense.”
Did the injury tempt you to rethink your Sprint Cup retirement plans?
“No, nothing has changed. I was looking forward to running in the Daytona 500, as well as racing at Las Vegas, Fontana and others, so I am disappointed I lost my chance to race at those places. But, I’m comfortable with the retirement plans. We have Clint Bowyer to drive the No. 14 next year and we’ll be fine. We are still going to have a lot of time in the car in 2016 and there’s a lot of racing left.”
Assess Ty Dillon’s Performance?
“I really didn’t know what to expect with Ty, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. He’s taken to Sprint Cup racing really quickly and has impressed a lot of people at SHR. He listens and is a really quick learner. I think he has a good future ahead of him in the sport.”
Ty Dillon, Substitute Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on racing at Talladega?
“It’s cool to get to race some more in the No. 14 and, this weekend, to share it with Tony is going to be great for me. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity. I’m very excited. Talladega is a track that I’ve been going to for a very long time. I remember watching races there as a kid. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to race. I love superspeedway racing and have had some success there in other series, but I’ve always wanted to run in a Sprint Cup race there.”
What is your goal at Talladega?
“That’s easy. We want to win. Tony’s going start and then get out of the car at some point and I’ll get in. You can make up a lot of ground quickly at Talladega, so I’m not worried about being behind. Of course, I want to get as much experience as I can and learn as much as I can but, at the end of the day, we’ll be trying to win the race just like everyone else.”
What has this stint with SHR meant to you?
“I think the thing I’ll take away from the SHR experience will be confidence. I’ve been able to talk with Tony at the racetrack at each of these weekends and that’s meant so much. Having a legend of our sport helping me out in my first couple of starts in a series has been huge for my confidence.”