Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewartsaid Wednesday that he will compete in “40 to 50" races next year, most on dirt and at least some driving for other car owners.
Stewart said he gave the 40-50 race schedule to Jimmy Carr, who serves as the crew chief for Stewart’s sprint car program. Stewart said Carr pinned him down so he could figure how much equipment he’d need next year.
“It may be more than we’re going to do," Stewart said of his tentative 2017 schedule. “But if we don’t have enough stuff, it will be hard to do what we want to do. If we do too much stuff, we can still do what we want to do."
But Stewart will not race in the 2017 Chili Bowl Nationals midget race in Tulsa next January because he’ll be recovering from back surgery scheduled for Dec. 19, when doctors will remove screws in his back.
Stewart suffered a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra in the crash of an off-road sand rail in late January and missed the first eight races of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, Stewart said he hasn’t decided which Formula One races he would like to attend with his Sprint Cup team co-owner Gene Haas, who also owns an Formula One team.
“I have to talk to Gene. I want to go to Monaco but I don’t think I have fancy enough clothes to go to Monaco," joked Stewart. “And I’m fairly certain I don’t have enough money to go to Monaco. If Uncle Gene wants to sponsor the trip and give me some allowance to go the casino every now and then …"
He did say he’s eager to take in the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, the nation’s biggest sprint car race. “That’s one I’m looking forward to again." Fox Sports
Tony Stewart admits he faces "a very steep, uphill battle" to avoid elimination Sunday from the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Dover International Speedway. But he also readily admits that there's only so much he can do, and the frustration that the driver plays only so much — or so little — of a role in a sport that has become increasingly reliant on engineering is one of the reasons he will retire from Cup racing after this season.
"When we come off the truck [on Friday], we fight the same thing for three days and there's nothing I can do to fix it," Stewart told reporters Wednesday during a NASCAR-mandated media tour as part of his Chase obligations.
"That's what's so frustrating for me as a driver. That is part of why I'm ready to do something different is because I can't make a difference anymore. I can't do different things with my feet and different things with my hands and run a different line and fix the problem. I used to be able to do that. I can't do that anymore. You just get so frustrated you can't see straight." The three-time Cup champion joked about trying to not get suspended for his final eight races if he said too much, acknowledging he is exhausted from trying to play a role of outspoken veteran in a sport where he believes the drivers are often afraid to share their feelings. "
'You can only beat the drum for so long and it can only fall on deaf ears for so long before you finally say, 'The people that need to make it better can't make it better,'" the 45-year-old Stewart said. Stewart said "I've had my fill of fighting the fight" as the driver to draw attention to issues of the way the sport operates."
While Stewart plans to retire from Cup racing, he said he has told his sprint-car team management to be ready for him to run 40-50 races next season. He will have to wait until February to race because he will have the screws taken out of his back in December. He said his first race next year will be on pavement and will be in someone else's equipment but he wouldn't reveal more than that. ESPN.com