Tony Stewart considers his NHRA Top Fuel debut a triumph despite an early exit.

Tony Stewart grabbed a soda and sat on the couch. Plopped, took off his cap, and breathed.


Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion and 1997 IndyCar champion, thought his NHRA Top Fuel debut a triumph despite losing in the first round. 


 Stewart, 52, made five passes at the season-opening Gatornationals, four in qualifying before exiting early against Justin Ashley. He did almost everything correctly.


Good starts. Clean runs. Much-needed experience. He beat Ashley off the starting line, astonishing considering Ashley has the best reaction time in the class.


“It's not like I'm leaving here going, ‘Oh, I've got all of this figured out,’” Stewart said Sunday. I had a good weekend without blunders. Every run will bring new challenges that I must overcome.


“We discussed them. You can discuss them all day. It's different until you feel them. Everything this weekend went well, but in two weeks it might all change.”


Stewart took over as team owner/driver after his wife, NHRA regular Leah Pruett, left to start a family. 


 Pruett has an autoimmune illness that interferes with thyroid hormone production and is unsure how it may influence her fertility. Stewart mocks it as “The Baby Project.”


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