Stewart seeks first Top Fuel elimination round win at NHRA Arizona Nationals

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

PHOENIX – Exactly seven months to the day marks 25 years since Tony Stewart first went to victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway. A quarter-century later, the three-time champion hopes to get his maiden elimination round victory as a Top Fuel rookie in the NHRA Arizona Nationals.

“We need a little luck on our side this week,” Stewart told Kickin’ the Tires. “We haven’t had any (in) the first-two events. Hopefully, we’ll start getting this thing turned around. 

“It’s just adjustments for the crew chiefs more than anything at this point,” Stewart added. “They’re happy with what I’m doing, which makes me feel great, because I’m the guy that’s probably the weakest link on the team right now. 

“I’m doing my job. That’s all I want to do on the weekends. But, obviously this team wants to perform better. Not getting past the first round these first-two events is tough to swallow, but it’s a process.”

Since entering the Top Fuel ranks in 2024 the driver and owner of Tony Stewart Racing has had a relatively difficult time acclimating to his 11,000-horsepower Dodge//SRT Dragster – a stark contrast to the 3,200-pound and up-to-670-horsepower stock car he last drove in NASCAR.

In his debut at Gainesville Raceway, Stewart had a respectable showing after coming out ahead in all of his qualifying matchups against Cody Krohn (twice), Brittany Force and Tripp Tatum. 

Entering round one of eliminations as the No. 9 qualifier, he would end up losing to eventual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals winner Justin Ashley by thirty-nine-one-thousandths-of-a-second.

At Pomona, Stewart didn’t make it down the drag strip in the first round of qualifying, then the only round he made it down, he got disqualified due to an issue with the timing system. That pitted him against four-time Top Fuel champ and No. 1 qualifier for the NHRA Arizona Nationals Steve Torrence in round one of the eliminations as the No. 13 qualifier, which did not end well.

“I wouldn’t even narrow it down to just NASCAR,” Stewart said. “NASCAR, IndyCar, SportsCars, Sprint Cars – all the stuff I’ve done before this, it was all in the same boat. But this is so different. It’s more about the procedure than it is actually driving the car. 

“There’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of things to do to keep the engine running correctly.”

Still in search of his first Top Fuel elimination round win, Stewart’s first step in reaching that goal was to qualify in the top-half of the field at Firebird Motorsports Park. That, however, did not go as planned.

In the first round of qualifying, Stewart got a good launch, but lost traction and was beat out by Terry Totten. Round two wasn’t much better after he went up in smoke as soon as he hit the throttle.

The third time would be the charm for Stewart, who sped to his Phoenix-best elapsed time of 3.982 seconds down the strip at 255.24 mph. Unfortunately, this wound up being the 12th-fastest time in the third round.

Thus, Stewart enters round one of eliminations for the NHRA Arizona Nationals as the No. 15 qualifier and will have to face off against 16-time Top Fuel winner Force.

Going into the third event of the season, Stewart and his team are determined to find a happy medium between him and his Dodge//SRT Dragster in hopes of becoming a more consistent contender on a weekly basis as quickly as possible.

In taking over driving duties for 18-time Top Fuel winner and wife Leah Pruett as she steps away in hopes of starting a family, the TSR crew has had to adapt to working on a differently-constructed Dragster.

Stewart states he is 55 pounds heavier than his wife and the footbox in his car is two inches longer than hers, changing the geometry of the car quite a bit. 

After a promising showing in Gainesville and a disappointing weekend in Pomona, Stewart is hopeful his team can prepare a hot rod capable of securing his first elimination round win in Top Fuel at Phoenix. But a little luck on their side wouldn’t hurt either.

“They’re just trying to figure out what this car wants versus the car Leah ran last year. Our weight difference is quite a bit, so they can’t just sit there and look at the notes and go, ‘This is what we’re going to put in,’ it has to be different for me. Figuring it out is just going to take time.”

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