Officials from Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl confirmed on Tuesday evening that two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will compete in the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 on Thursday, June 25, as part of the 50th anniversary season at "The Nation's Site of Excitement".
"Of all the people, in any form of racing, the one driver I wanted to help us celebrate the 50th anniversary of Thunder Road was Tony Stewart," said track co-owner and promoter Tom Curley. "I have always thought that Tony Stewart represents what stock car racing is supposed to be about. He will definitely be coming to race, and that is what Thunder Road fans and competitors expect."
To date, Stewart is a 33-time winner in Sprint Cup Series competition, earning the series' championship in 2002 and 2005 and the Rookie of the Year title in 1999. He also owns eight victories in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, including his season-opening win at Daytona (Fla.) Int'l Speedway, and finished a season-best third behind the wheel of his own Stewart-Hass Racing #14 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series' Goody's 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last weekend. "Smoke" currently ranks seventh in Sprint Cup point standings after the first six races.
Rumors swirling around a possible appearance by Stewart at Thunder Road began in early 2008 after he praised the track on his Sirius radio program, and were further fueled by an ambiguous "no comment" from track co-owner and promoter Tom Curley in January. Stewart and Thunder Road founder Ken Squier have reportedly been speaking about a deal to put Stewart in an American-Canadian Tour-legal Late Model at the track since 2007. A news column posted by Curley in February touted the planned appearances of two Sprint Cup-level drivers at the track; Stewart is the first to confirm his intentions to compete there.
Before Stewart, Sprint Cup Series drivers Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader competed at Thunder Road; Wallace finished 12th in a regular 50-lap feature at Thunder Road in June 2007, while Schrader finished sixth at the Governor's Cup in 2006 and ninth in a 50-lap feature in 2005.
"Thunder Road has been on my list of short tracks I just had to race at in my career," Stewart said. "I have heard so much about this track from so many different people around the country."
Stewart said that some help from Schrader might aid him in his quest to win at Thunder Road. "Thanks to my friend Kenny Schrader for getting (Thunder Road) to add some laps to the Governor’s Cup," he said. "From what he tells me the competition is tough and whoever wins needs all the laps he can get." Schrader's start in the Governor's Cup event came when the race distance was 100 laps; officials raised the distance to 150 laps this year in honor of the 50th anniversary.
Stewart's appearance in the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 adds to the luster of the already highly anticipated race: it is one of four special events that will award the winner a starting berth in the inaugural ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. The other three such events are the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains (Me.) Speedway in July, and August's Center of Speed 150 at Wiscasset (Me.) Raceway and the Coors Light 200 "Showdown at Chaudière" at Autodrome Chaudière near Québec City. Should Stewart win the Governor's Cup at choose to compete at New Hampshire, NHMS officials will add an extra starting position to the field to allow another pre-qualified local Late Model driver to start the event.
In addition to his Sprint Cup and Nationwide success, Stewart owns victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Re/Max Series, was the 2006 International Race of Champions (IROC) title winner, the 1997 Indy Racing League champion, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, and the first driver to win the USAC "Triple Crown" as he swept the Midget, Sprint Car, and Silver Crown championships in the same year.
Stewart is the owner of Ohio's Eldora Speedway, and is deeply involved in short track racing on both dirt and asphalt as a team owner and competitor.
(Photos courtesy NASCAR and http://www.tonystewart.com/)