Stewart upbeat despite ranking

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A sponsorship conflict prevented Tony Stewart from making any appearances on behalf of Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first 10 years of his career. Those issues now untangled, the two-time champion spent half a day this week doing promotional work on behalf of the track.

Boy, did he make up for lost time.

Stewart charmed a roomful of his fans with his sharp wit and dark humor, pleasantly answering more than 30 minutes of questions that covered everything from his business ventures, the house he's building, his new girlfriend and, most important, his troubling start to the season.

What made Monday's appearance most remarkable was Stewart's upbeat demeanor. The notoriously moody driver had been cranky and terse at the race track for about a month, and after a 23rd-place finish last weekend at Richmond, his spirits weren't expected to be all that improved.

Instead, he was able to joke about his on-track struggles.

"I don't know what's going on. Darian (crew chief Darian Grubb) and I just look at each other, and hug each other and say 'I love you man,'" Stewart said. "We don't know what the problem is."

Stewart heads into the weekend at Darlington Raceway ranked 15th in the standings. This time last season, he was third in the standings.

START YOUR ENGINES: The new Ford FR9 engine will be made available for full-time use starting with the July 3 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Ford has been slow to implement it on a regular basis. It was used a couple of times last year and by Wood Brothers Racing this year during selected races. Every Ford team had the new engine, which supposedly runs cooler and produces more horsepower, at the Daytona 500 and April's race at Talladega, Ala.

Starting with Daytona, it will be the only engine used by Ford teams.

KENTUCKY UPDATE: A lawsuit involving the former owners of Kentucky Speedway has been resolved, opening the possibility of that track joining the Sprint Cup Series schedule as early as next year.

NASCAR refused to consider a date for the 1.5-mile track until all legal issues were settled.

Former owner Jerry Carroll sued NASCAR, saying it violated federal antitrust laws in the way it doles out its racing dates. Since NASCAR said it has no interest in expanding the regular season schedule, the most likely scenario for Kentucky to get a race is if it comes from the existing inventory of races for Speedway Motorsports Inc.

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