NASCAR champ Tony Stewart takes F1 drivers for a ride around COTA

AUSTIN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 31: Tony Stewart (centre), Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Haas F1 (L) and Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 (R) pose for a photo before driving the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Mustang in a demonstration run during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas on October 31, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart returned to a stock car Thursday for the first time since Nov. 20, 2016.  The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing made a demonstration run at the 3.426-mile, 20-turn Circuit of the Americas in advance of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix. And he took some passengers along for the ride. He even let them take a turn behind the wheel.

Stewart’s Ford Mustang was outfitted with a passenger seat and he took Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen how to wheel a 3,200-pound racecar around America’s only purpose-built Formula One venue.

“It was a lot of fun to come to a venue that we’ve never been to, but provide an opportunity for Romain and Kevin to get in the car and make laps at a venue they’re comfortable with and familiar with, but in a different kind of car,” Stewart said. “For me, it was a car I’m familiar with, but a venue I wasn’t familiar with. It was lot of fun for me to get in our Haas Automation Ford Mustang and run here, but a lot of fun for me to watch those guys and see how much they enjoyed driving the car.”

For Grosjean and Magnussen, it was a rare moment to drive a racecar that is the polar opposite of what they drive in the FIA Formula One World Championship.

“It’s been the best Thursday of the year, by far,” said Grosjean, whose most applicable stock-car experience had been when he piloted a Ford GT1 in the 2010 FIA GT1 championship. “Tony Stewart giving you a ride in a NASCAR stock car is already something very unique, and then having the chance to drive it is pretty special. Kevin and I really enjoyed ourselves. We gave it some cheese and smoke at the end. It was just fun to discover something that’s very different, yet very much the same as far as the way you drive it and the way you feel the car.

“The gearbox was really good. I was not expecting such a good gearbox. A bit long off the line, and it worked for the burnouts. A really good engine with really, really good sound. It’s a heavy car, but it’s quite a drive and I was happily surprised by it.”

Prior to Thursday, the only time Magnussen had wheeled a racecar with a roof and fenders was when he sampled a GT2 car and a DTM car. However, this was the second time Magnussen received driving instruction from Stewart. Smoke taught Magnussen how to pilot a 1,350-pound sprint car with 750 horsepower last October at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, North Carolina.

“It was awesome,” Magnussen said. “Always wanted to drive a NASCAR stock car and it was great to have Tony there, once again, driving one of his cars. I drove his sprint car last year and he was there for that and instructed me. That was a great day, too. Again, really good fun and a bit of a dream come true to drive one of those iconic cars. It’s a big ol’ racecar. It’s moving around a lot more and it doesn’t really have any downforce and it’s very heavy. It’s a carbureted engine and the throttle response is pretty different. There’s something very raw about it. It’s very old-school and, what can I say, it’s just a bad-ass racecar.”

Stewart was impressed by how quickly Grosjean and Magnussen acclimated themselves to his No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Mustang.

“I’ll go back to what we did a year ago with Kevin Magnussen. We took him to a track in North Carolina and took our 360 winged sprint car and he ran about 40 laps and, at the end of 40 laps, we had him within four tenths of what I ran in the same car,” Stewart said. “Days like that and days like today provide the opportunity to see how elite drivers are truly that – elite. We put Kevin and Romain in a car that they’ve never been in before, and they went out and had a lot of fun and ran some pretty competitive lap times. It just shows why these guys got their opportunities in Formula One, and why they have that talent to do it. They just have that natural ability to drive a racecar.”

Stewart co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, hence the connection to Haas F1 Team. SHR’s four NASCAR Cup Series drivers – Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suárez – are all competing in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in nearby Fort Worth. SHR also fields two NASCAR Xfinity Series teams for drivers Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe, who will race on Saturday at Texas in the undercard O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Greg Engle