NASCAR & Auto Racing

Stewart's team inspires envy

Everyone said Tony Stewart was crazy to leave the cozy confines of Joe Gibbs Racing to run his own NASCAR team.

It would be hard work, require long hours and test his volatile temperament. It could interfere with his driving, expose him to failure and make this first season the most difficult of his career.

Three months into the season, Stewart looks like a genius. Using an extreme makeover on the former Haas CNC Racing organization, Stewart has put together one of the most solid organizations in the Sprint Cup Series. He's third in the standings, and after a rocky start to the season, teammate Ryan Newman has vaulted 23 spots over the past seven races to 10th in the points. They finished second and fourth, respectively, Saturday night at Richmond, and both are currently in contention for berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

"It's been impressive to watch the change," rival driver Jeff Burton said. "I'm not sure I remember a team changing possession, a new owner stepping in, and the turnaround being what it's been. He's making other people want to go and own their own cars."

BLUEGRASS NASCAR? Speedway Motorsports Inc. officials said Monday that they have asked NASCAR to add Kentucky to the 2010 Sprint Cup Series schedule.

Any chance SMI has is contingent on the former owners of Kentucky Motor Speedway dropping an antitrust suit against NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., its sister company.

SMI chairman Bruton Smith, who traveled to the Kentucky Derby last weekend to make a case for dropping the suit, has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts.

"We're trying to persuade these people to try to drop that appeal, and then they are out of the way of NASCAR, and it would make it much simpler," Smith said.

Smith is willing to give up a race date at one of his seven other facilities to get Kentucky on the schedule. SMI President Marcus Smith said no decision has been made on which track would lose a date if NASCAR adds Kentucky to its 36-race schedule.

"We've done everything we need to make sure Kentucky is not out of play in 2010," Marcus Smith said. "It's sort of a chess game from here."

SMI agreed to pay $78.3 million last year for the track in Sparta, Ky., which hosts a NASCAR second-tier Nationwide Series race but has been unsuccessful in landing a coveted Sprint Cup date.

CHEAP EATS AT DARLINGTON: Darlington Raceway has already cut ticket prices. Now, track officials are slicing the cost to eat at Saturday night's Southern 500.

The track said Monday that a hot dog would go from $4 to $3, as would a bottle of water. Ordering a hot dog and fries will drop from $7 to $5.

The track's concessionaire, Americrown, says it will also offer a kid's value meal that includes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a cookie, a chewy fruit snack and milk for $4.

ROOKIES AT INDY: Seven veterans who have had limited track time in the past year are expected to begin the Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation program along with six first-year drivers.

Former Champ Car Series champion Paul Tracy is among the veterans who will take part today. Others are John Andretti, A.J. Foyt IV, Davey Hamilton, former winner Buddy Lazier, Alex Lloyd and Scott Sharp.

The six rookies are Robert Doornbos, Raphael Matos, Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway, Nelson Philippe and Alex Tagliani.

Full practice for the May 24 race begins Wednesday.