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Tony Stewart to run full season in NHRA top alcohol dragster

FILE - Tony Stewart talks before an SRX Series auto race in Nashville, Saturday, July 17, 2021. NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart will make his drag racing debut this weekend at the NHRA Nevada Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

(AP) — NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart will return to full-time competition this season — as an NHRA drag racer.

Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, will run a top alcohol dragster for McPhillips Racing for the full 2023 NHRA season. Stewart, who turns 52 in May, will be sponsored by longtime partner Mobil 1.

Stewart made his NHRA debut in a Top Alcohol dragster last October at the Nevada Nationals, where he advanced to the finals and finished second by .0002-of a second. Stewart’s 5.258-second, 271.57 mph run in the finals came up just one inch short of the win.

Stewart, who owns a sprint car team and is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR, last year started an NHRA team that fields one dragster in Top Fuel for his wife, Leah Pruett, and Funny Car for Matt Hagan.

“We’ve been working on putting this package together with the McPhillips family to expand on what we did at Las Vegas last year and get back in the seat,” Stewart said. “I want to keep learning about the sport and have the opportunity to go compete more this year with a team I really enjoy.

“It’s nerve-wracking to try and do something different, but when you have a team like what the McPhillips Racing team has, it makes everything a lot easier.”

Stewart has won championships in NASCAR, IndyCar, and USAC, and will be competing for the NHRA National Championship this year. Top Alcohol drivers are eligible to earn points at their first 10 national events. Their best six national finishes from their eligible points-earning events will constitute their championship points total.

Stewart isn’t sure a title is in reach.

“It’s hard to sit there and know what expectations we should have for the year,” Stewart said. “I think as long as I keep learning more and more as I go by trying to be more consistent with driving the car, keep it in the groove, trying to stay consistent on reaction times and improve reaction times, those are all goals for me. I want to keep learning and get better every weekend and every race we go to.”

Stewart’s first race as a full-time drag racer will be the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, next month. In addition to the NHRA national events Stewart will also compete in select races in the Divisional Series, starting with the Baby Gators at Gainesville Raceway from March 1-5.

“It’s been like being a little kid all over again,” Stewart said. “When I was racing go-karts, I couldn’t wait for the winter to be over so I could go racing. That’s where I’m at all over again.”