Jonathan Stewart spent the better part of a decade following his lead blocker as a Pro Bowl running back for the Carolina Panthers. On Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Stewart will lead the charge for the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race aboard the Toyota Camry pace car.
Stewart’s first foray into honorary pace car driving comes on the heels of the popular runner signing a one-day contract to retire with the Panthers in April. After rushing for more than 7,000 yards and scoring 51 touchdowns with Carolina, the art of pace car driving offered a new challenge for Stewart.
“I’m so excited to be back home in Charlotte and to be here today,” Stewart said. “To be part of the Charlotte community and the speedway is very nice. I had to get certified (to drive the pace car) and I was like, ‘This is gonna be a long process. I’m gonna have to answer a lot of questions. This is gonna be like driver’s ed,’ but it was pretty easy. You have to pay attention to the lines on the track and follow the speed limit.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be nervous when I have a rear-view mirror of cars growling at me, ready to go fast. Once I got comfortable, I was ready to take it to another level. I definitely felt like I could get it up to 130 miles per hour pretty quick. That Toyota is loaded up with some horsepower.”
Clint Bowyer starts Saturday night’s showdown of superstars from the pole with Kyle Busch on the outside front row.
As for Stewart’s pick? He couldn’t decide between Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon.
“It’d be cool just to see them there battling it out at the end,” he added.