Stewart Returns To Roots

Newly-crowned NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Tony Stewart returns to his roots Thanksgiving week to compete in USAC National/Western Midget Car races and Western Sprint Car races in California and Nevada. The only driver to "sweep" USAC's Triple Crown of National Championships (1995), Tony rates among favorites for victory in USAC's 2002 season finales.

Indiana's Rushville Rocket/Columbus Comet became an Irwindale Icon two years ago, winning the 60th running of the "Turkey Night Grand Prix," an American motorsports classic, at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. Thursday night (Nov. 28) he returns to the 1/2-mile paved Irwindale oval as one of five drivers for car owner Steve Lewis of Laguna Beach, Calif., joining teammates Dave Darland, J.J. Yeley, Kasey Kahne and Bobby East.

Two nights later Stewart will compete in USAC's 2002 finales at the "Bullring" at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway. His initial USAC Silver Crown victory came at LVMS in 1997, on a 1/2-mile dirt track, while Saturday night's (Nov. 30) races are on the 3/8-mile pavement.

Stewart's Midget car owner, Lewis, holds the all-time record for USAC wins at 101 and leads the 2002 National standings with defending champion Darland and Yeley 1-2 in the current points. Lewis won "Turkey Night" in 1990 and 1991 with Stan Fox and again in 1999 and 2000 with Jason Leffler and Stewart. Tony will actually be seeking a third "Turkey Night" triumph, having won a USAC TQ Midget feature as part of the 1993 program at the Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway.

Stewart's past 22 USAC National Midget starts have yielded 11 victories. He owns 26 total career USAC National Midget wins, part of his 52 total USAC victories.

Thursday's Irwindale program also includes USAC Western Sprint Car and USAC Ford Focus Midget Car competition, while the USAC Western Sprint Cars are also part of Saturday night's "doubleheader" at Las Vegas. Stewart is also listed among drivers expected to compete in the Sprint cars at both Irwindale and Las Vegas.

Dave Steele of Tampa, Fla. (Midget Cars) and Tony Hunt of Fair Oaks, Calif. (Sprint Cars) are the defending "Turkey Night" champions. Practice for the 62nd Lucas Oil "Turkey Night Grand Prix" at Irwindale starts at 3 pm, with qualifying beginning at 4:30. Racing starts at 7, culminating with a 20-lap Ford Focus Midget, 40-lap Sprint Car and 100-lap Midget Car feature. Saturday's timetable at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's "Bullring" has practice at 1 pm, qualifying at 4 and racing at 6:30. Feature events are both 50 laps. Autograph sessions are on tap at both Irwindale and Las Vegas.

Championships in all four USAC series, National and Western Midget Car, Western Sprint Car and Ford focus Midget Cars, are up for grabs and will be finalized in the Irwindale and Las Vegas programs. Chad Nichols of San Carlos, Calif. (Western Sprints), Dave Darland of Lincoln, Ind. (National Midgets), Robby Flock of Murietta, Calif. (Western Midgets) and Todd Hunsaker of Chino Hills, Calif. (Ford Focus Midgets) are the respective point leaders.

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