COLUMBUS, Ind. — Tony Stewart put the brakes on his NASCAR racing career this year, but next year he plans to go full throttle with short-track racing. After retiring as a driver from NASCAR’s top racing circuit after the 2016 season, the Columbus resident and three-time Cup Series season champion learned this year how to manage his newfound schedule and make the most of the flexibility it provided.

Stewart competed in about 45 short track races this year, but said during a recent phone interview that he intends to compete in 90 or more next year. By having full control over his schedule, Stewart raced at dirt tracks when and where he wanted, in addition to managing his duties as co-owner of the Stewart-Haas Racing team in NASCAR, and as owner of several short tracks and a race team at the lower levels.

Away from track responsibilities, that flexibility also has allowed Stewart to spend more time with girlfriend, model Pennelope Jimenez, to whom he became engaged on Thanksgiving. Even though this season proved busier than expected, Stewart said being able to take a page from the playbook of another famous Hoosier has made his new situation fun.

Former NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and girlfriend Pennelope Jimenez, along with Stewart's dog Max, pose after Stewart and Jimenez became engaged on Thanksgiving Day at his house in Columbus.
Former NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and girlfriend Pennelope Jimenez, along with Stewart’s dog Max, pose after Stewart and Jimenez became engaged on Thanksgiving Day at his house in Columbus.

Read more in Wednesday’s print edition of The Republic.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.