Stewart hopes weather cooperates for Prelude

The absence of three of Sprint Cup racing’s top stars necessitated a lineup change for Tony Stewart’s Gillette Young Guns Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway, but the track owner and promoter of the charity event will consider that a fair trade-off if the raindrops also stay away this time.

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Injured Carl Edwards, who broke two bones in his right foot playing Frisbee last week, had to withdraw from Wednesday’s event, which originally was scheduled for June 3. Former Cup champion Bill Elliott won’t be there, either, having cracked three ribs in a dirt bike accident. And Jeff Gordon had to opt out because of a scheduling conflict.

With replacement drivers clamoring for spots in the field, however, Stewart had no problem finding substitutes. Sprint Cup drivers Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allmendinger have been added to the roster.

Proceeds from the race, which will be televised live on HBO Pay-Per-View, will go to four military-themed charities.

“I’ve been kind of paranoid this year — I am every time we have this event,” Stewart said Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “When our race (Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta) is over, then I’m going to look at the Weather Channel, and it will be THE channel for the week.

“I’m very excited about it, and I’m real appreciative that Gillette has come on board and helped us bring back the Pay-Per-View side on HBO — and that’s going to help us raise a lot of money for those soldiers and their families.”

The weather forecast for the Rossburg, Ohio, area on Wednesday calls for a 40 percent chance of afternoon and evening showers.

Stewart is the defending winner of the Prelude, which is in its fifth year. The event has grown exponentially in stature since its inception in 2005, both in its ability to attract the best drivers in the world and in its ability to raise money for charity.

The 2009 Prelude at Eldora Speedway, which Stewart owns, will feature 23 drivers, including Stewart, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. From the results of the previous four years, it might appear the track owner has a home-field advantage — Stewart won the event in 2006 and 2008 and finished second to Kenny Wallace in the inaugural event in 2005.

Edwards won the 2007 Prelude, the first time the event was carried live on HBO Pay-Per-View. Live coverage of the 2009 Prelude begins at 7 p.m. ET.

Over the past four years, the Prelude has raised more than $2 million for charity, with the lion’s share going to Victory Junction Gang Camp, founded by Kyle and Pattie Petty. With the U.S. Army sponsoring teammate Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet at Stewart-Haas Racing this year, Stewart has chosen the following charities as the beneficiaries of this year’s pay-per-view proceeds: Wounded Warrior Project, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Homefront and Fisher House.

Also committed to the event are: Newman, Wallace, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Robby Gordon (last year’s runner-up), David Reutimann, Aric Almirola, Ken Schrader, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Ray Evernham, Joey Logano, Red Farmer and Casey Mears.