Generational racing talent Tony Stewart has won in every form of racing he’s ever seriously attempted — NASCAR, IndyCar, USAC, World of Outlaws, and the list goes on — and with his fresh foray into drag racing, winning would again come as no surprise. On Sunday, he nearly parked his Rich McPhillips Racing-owned, Mobil 1-backed dragster on the dance floor in the first competitive drag race of his life, losing by what was almost assuredly the smallest margin in his entire, illustrious racing career at the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Stewart, driving McPhillips’ highly competitive A/Fuel Dragster, qualified second among 21 Top Alcohol Dragster entries with a 5.219 at 276.52 mph. Stewart ousted James Stevens in a great opening-round drag race, an .062 light and a 5.293 bettering a quicker-leaving .042 and a 5.342. In round two, Stewart showed consistency on the tree by matching his reaction time from round-one to the thousandth, pairing it with a 5.278-second elapsed time to defeat Taylor Vetters’ 5.33. That set up a semifinal matchup with former national champion Chris Demke — there, Stewart’s quickest run of raceday, a 5.243, and a strong .045 light, put him ahead of Demke at the stripe in a certifiable upset.
On the opposite side of the ladder and marching her way to the final was Madison Payne. Madison, a college student and third-generation drag racer, was born four years after Stewart won his lone IndyCar championship in 1997, and was just one-year-old when he won his first NASCAR Cup title in 2002. But on this day, the 51-year-old motorsports star and the up-and-coming 21-year-old were seeking the very same prize: their first NHRA national event Wally trophy.
Stewart was again consistent at the tree in the finale, carding an .065 light to Payne’s right-there .061, but that scant difference proved to be all Madison needed, as she crossed the finish line stripe first by a mere .0002-seconds — a difference of just 1 of the 300 inches of wheelbase of their respective dragsters — to take a 5.26 to 5.25 holeshot win.
“I have had more fun this weekend than I have had in a long time,” Stewart said before the final round, adding “definitely not anywhere that has fenders on it,” in a clear message to NASCAR, with which he has publicly expressed frustration in recent weeks. “So I am loving this sport.”
Stewart has not yet addressed his future drag racing appearances, in Top Alcohol Dragster or elsewhere, but suffice it to say, this isn’t likely to be a one-time deal.