The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Stewart Won't Be Questioning Himself... Should You? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday August 7, 2013

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Tony Stewart won’t be seen near a microphone, or a race car anytime soon after breaking his right fibula and tibia in a frightening Sprint car crash at Southern Iowa Speedway.

Did You Notice?… Tony Stewart will be out for at least a week, likely several, after breaking his right fibula and tibia in a sprint car crash?

Of course you did.

The incident, making national news, is the third such one for Stewart, driving a Sprint car within the last three weeks. The first two didn’t scare him; I doubt this third one will, despite the second surgery and extended hospital stay that awaits. Some people watch TV to relax; others go running, catch a movie, or spend time with their partner. Well, there’s only one way Stewart, who has about 1,000 different things on his plate can do the same.

Driving a Sprint car.

There’s a lot of people who, this Wednesday, will be claiming that hobby needs to end. First and foremost will be Stewart-Haas Racing’s accountant; this injury, which causes Smoke’s top team to miss the Chase will cost them millions in exposure, points money and bonuses. A top-tier NASCAR organization, with three full-time teams and employees in the hundreds are dependent on a leader who will now be MIA for the foreseeable future. The short-term hit on Stewart’s body is bad enough; the long-term consequences for everything else connected to him could last well into 2014. Danica Patrick has lost a mentor; Ryan Newman’s team, already in transition towards Kevin Harvick has no one to answer to should they start laying back. A rudderless ship doesn’t always sink, but simply leaving that outcome to chance is a dangerous game.

Many are calling taking that risk, one that left Stewart in the hospital, irresponsible. So should this man, at age 42, stop doing what he wants? Well, last I checked, we lived in America: the land of the free and the home of the brave. The whole point of a democracy is that we have control over our own fates, not dictated by the government or some mythical Big Brother watching over us. Fame here, as it does so often, shouldn’t come at the result of stealing your own happiness; success isn’t meant to impose misery. That’s important considering for a few short hours, in the middle of nowhere, competing against men who do this as a hobby, Stewart feels relaxed and content. One could say putting him in the right frame of mind, early each week allows him to be successful everywhere else in life; for athletes, mental preparation is just as important as physical talent.

If that’s the case, how could anyone, let alone Smoke himself, lose that part of his life? We’re not talking drugs here, nor skydiving or bungee jumping. Yes, there’s a chance of injury, even death; but you know what? There’s also a risk of injury every time Jimmie Johnson takes his boat out onto Lake Norman. Or every time Denny Hamlin plays basketball (see: torn ACL). Last I checked, these drivers don’t live in a bubble. The reality of everyday life should continue to exist for them, just as it does for you and me.

So in Stewart’s particular case, I expect little will change. Months from now, healed and healthy, Smoke will be back on a dirt track, somewhere you don’t really know mixing it up and having fun with a bunch of local racers. I can’t say with confidence, however that will be the same for everyone else. The big NASCAR owners, where business is a bottom line will now see this racing as a potential red flag. After all, we’ve now had a death (Jason Leffler) and two major injuries (Stewart, Shane Hmiel) that have made national headlines within the last few years. The pattern, scarily enough, is within range of the lives lost during 2000-01, within NASCAR’s top series that eventually claimed its heart and soul: Dale Earnhardt, Sr. With hundreds of employees on the payroll, sponsors paying millions and the owners themselves earning much more off their drivers, a little Tuesday night playtime in a Sprint car won’t be worth the seven-digit investment they’re making. Expect certain clauses, preventing extracurricular activities to skyrocket faster than you can google “Johnny Manziel fall from grace.”

Still, the concept of banning top drivers from these events seems insulting to tracks, promoters, and racing series across the country. So you’re saying Tony Stewart can’t race a Sprint car, since it’s unsafe but thousands of other “normal” citizens can do it every Saturday night and risk death? “Hey, Johnny Smith; you’re not special, so take Tony’s spot and if you wreck and die, oh well. At least the guy with the big bucks still races next week.” If the situation is that dire, safety becoming that much of an issue, then everyone should be working as a team to fix the problem. Last I checked, “saving” famous people doesn’t exactly work as well as a HANS device.

That’s not to say raising standards, in the Sprint car arena will be easy. The most fun car to drive is also well known as the most dangerous, safety standards far below the level which NASCAR’s established today. You’re talking a number of local tracks, with limited funding across the country that don’t all work together or are involved in the same associations to begin with. Local racers, who struggle to find the money for a helmet some weeks will be resistant to large modifications they’ll be scraping up money to pay for. Unification across the country, in pursuit of a common goal of saving lives, serves a noble purpose but is little more than a pipe dream.

That same word – dream – is what brought Tony Stewart to where he’s at in the first place. There’s thousands out there pursuing the same, looking to be just as successful while accepting the inherent risks that come with jumping inside a race car. Stewart won’t be the last one hurt, just like Leffler won’t be the last to die and Earnhardt won’t be the final tragedy we see on the Sprint Cup level. The best safety measures can decrease the odds, as we’ve seen but never completely eliminate them. 200 miles an hour, diving into a corner is as unnatural as trying to maneuver a winged Sprint car, at maybe half that speed around a small dirt track in the midst of heavy traffic.

What happened to Stewart was unfortunate, something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But there’s a difference between “unfortunate” and inherently unsafe. Let’s hope everyone comes to understand it.

Did You Notice?… Quick hits before taking off…

- Max Papis will confuse some people as the choice to sub for Stewart… but it’s actually smart. He tested the car at Road Atlanta, did well and has some Nationwide Series top-5 finishes in quality road course equipment. The “right-turn” specialist also earned his best career result at Watkins Glen, in Cup with a ninth-place finish in 2009. Victory Lane might be a stretch; a top-10 finish? That’s very realistic.

- My vote for the best sub for Stewart, surveying the landscape would be Regan Smith. He’s done it for a high-profile ride before (Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last Fall), is a fellow Chevy driver (part of JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series) and is without any Cup opportunities for 2014. What better way to have an open audition, showing people what you can do than by taking over in one of the top cars on the circuit? It’s the least Stewart can do to make things even between them after a certain Talladega “steal” nearly five years ago.

- Breathing Chase easier after this whole incident: Brad Keselowski. Still winless, there’s suddenly one driver he leapfrogs over instantaneously this Sunday while battling for a top 10 spot in the season standings. Not looking like a winner, before Richmond points will need to be enough for the No. 2 car. They have to start working on building consistency now — but at least a little bit more of the pressure is off without such a major player fighting to get in.

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Hank
08/07/2013 07:30 AM
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The paragraph about everyone losing Tony makes it sound like he died…I’m pretty sure he will still be at the track, and helping his drivers and crews as much as possible. Once we get back to the ovals, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get back in the car, even if only to start the race. Stewart is a tough SOB, and I don’t see this sidelining him too long if he has anything to do with it.

I hope he gets well soon and back in the car. I can’t stand his crybaby attitude sometimes, but he has passion for what he does.

Personally, I think all the media that are saying what he should do, and what Kyle Petty has the right to say need to get over themselves and realize the only thing they’ve driven around a racetrack is a golf cart to the media center

JP
08/07/2013 07:44 AM
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“The whole point of a democracy is that we have control over our own fates, not dictated by the government or some mythical Big Brother watching over us.”

Has anybody been paying attention to the news then? The U.S. government is literally trying to take over everything. They are spying on us in real time, have taken over GM, are trying to take over Apple….and the most scary thing is Obamacare which will dictate HOW WE LIVE.

But hey…don’t worry…just keep watching those “reality” shows and everything will be fine. You’re in good hands.

Kevin
08/07/2013 08:30 AM
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I’m not sure why people are so quick to assume Stewart won’t make the chase. Obviously, it’s more difficult now, but unless someone else between 11th and 20th gets a win, all he has to do is be above either Truex or Newman in points after Richmond. If he only misses 1 race, that is certainly possible.

JER
08/07/2013 08:47 AM
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After Tony’s broken leg the general consensus is that his participation in lower levels of racing below “Sprint Cup” is just Tony’s passion for competition and its his business and we should respect it. That being said I fully agree. However, when Kyle Busch competes in lower levels he is judged and criticized under a double standard. If Tony and Kyle both want to participate in “Soap-Box-Derby” so be it. However, let’s view both men using the same standards

jerseygirl
08/07/2013 08:59 AM
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I figure it’s a personal choice. Tony is an adult and capable of making his own decisions. I don’t think anyone else – NASCAR or others – need to be involved in it, certainly not to the point where they could “forbid” him to do it. This whole nanny-state junk is stupid. Think for yourself, make your own choices, live with the consequences.

Lydia
08/07/2013 09:13 AM
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My husband..a successful business owner…thinks Stewart has no right jepordizing the welfare of so many who depend on him. I then pointed out my husband is an avid Harley man…a MUCH more dangerous endeavor then Sprint cars….Nuff’ said. We all have our ways we make our lives enjoyable…ways we deal with the everyday drags of life….to each their own..Nuff’ said.

Carl D.
08/07/2013 10:25 AM
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I have no problem with Tony Stewart or any other driver doing whatever they want when away from the track. That’s their business and their choice. In that respect I agree with you, Tom. I just hope that the people who depend on Stewart, and the organizations that have paid to put him and his car on the track, are so understanding. Tony is one of the most hard-headed people in Nascar, so I’m sure no one can convince him that his moonlighting just might not be smart considering his business obligations. However, it’s Stewart’s right to be as stupid and stubborn as he wants to be.

Hank
08/07/2013 10:32 AM
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Considering the same brands are on his Sprint car as his cup car, I’d venture to say they understand and promote it. They’ve never had any trouble cashing the checks from t-shirt and die-cast sales. Would be a little foolish for Mobil 1 or Bass Pro Shops to come out and criticize Tony when they’re helping foot the bill most nights he’s out there.

tom
08/07/2013 11:18 AM
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Time to name backup drivers Each team name a backup at start of season to replace there primary diver. that way there still in the points race Every sport has backup players except NASCAR

Carl D.
08/07/2013 11:29 AM
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tom… I like the backup idea but only to be used if a driver is not cleared by a doctor to race, or for a death in the immediate family.

tom
08/07/2013 11:55 AM
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Last year JR this year Hamlin and now tony

Funky D
08/07/2013 12:17 PM
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Tony may be hardheaded and the boss, but I’ll bet that he will listen to what Zippy has to say on the matter. But ultimately, Tony at least needs to carefully weigh his extracurricular activities (which IMO contribute quite beneficially to his overall state of mind) against the responsibility he has to his sponsors and employees, and find the best path from there.

Bill B
08/07/2013 12:41 PM
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You know, I hear what everyone is saying and I agree for the most part. We all want to live life on our own terms and as long as we can suffer the consequences without affecting anyone else, so be it. For the most part I don’t like it when my job encroaches on my real life.
Still, with that said, his decision to race is affecting others as would similar decisions we make in our own lives. None of us lives in a bubble and there are very few decisions any of us make that won’t have repercussions to others, even if they go as planned.
I just think everyone is trying to look at this as a black and white deal and it isn’t. Should Tony race outside of NASCAR, yes. Should he be racing in a hundred races outside his primary commitment, probably not. Balance is the word here.
The responsible thing to do is to lower the probability of having negative results. If he races in 20 extra-curricular races instead of 100, he has 1/5th the chance of sustaining an injury. (I know this math is over-simplified from a statistics point of view, but you get the point).

Upstate24fan
08/07/2013 01:01 PM
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I agree he should have the freedom to decide where and when he races. However, its his sponsors and the large checks they write that will determine how much Tony does now. I’m sure they knew this could happen, but try explaining that to a Board of Directors and shareholders when your spending $25 million a year.

Just as drivers have the right to race wherever they want during the week, the owners have the right to limit that by contract. If I owned a major race team with hundreds of employees, Fortune-500 sponsors to keep happy and millions invested in a star driver; I would think long and hard about how much extracurricular racing I would allow.

Paul
08/07/2013 01:24 PM
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The main reason I like drivers like Tony, Matt and Kyle is because they do the short track racing. Also, the main reason I can’t stand Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon cause they DON’T!

dyno dave
08/07/2013 01:49 PM
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Everybody, including all the sponsors with their money, should remember that a major reason for Tony’s popularity and his marketability (and his driving ability) is that he is a wheel man – a real race car driver who lives to race and to have a good time while doing it…

Rufus
08/07/2013 02:41 PM
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JER, what you said is bang on. Everyone jumps on Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, and Joey Logano when they go run Nationwide, Truck, or any other racing series, calling them egomaniacs and accusing them of stealing money from those other series. But, when Tony does it, he’s a racer, he helps them out, and he is praised for his actions. Complete hypocrisy! If it is wrong for Edwards and Busch, it is wrong for Tony too!

Funky D
08/07/2013 03:57 PM
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Rufus,

Have you considered the possibility that Tony’s appearances at short tracks have actually put money back into the coffers of those tracks, and onto the purses handed out to the drivers? A Tony appearance is a virtual guarantee of a sellout wherever he goes. With a lot of short tracks struggling financially in this tough economic climate, the boost to their bottom line is incalculable.

Bill B
08/07/2013 06:31 PM
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When Stewart starts showing up regularly in the NW or Truck series I’ll start bitching about him too. Until then these dirt tracks are so far off the radar I don’t give a damn. If every NW and Truck race wasn’t televised, I probably wouldn’t care about the others. But if I’ve got sit there and watch it, then I’d rather not see someone from the majors beat the crap out of the wannabes.

Steve K
08/07/2013 07:23 PM
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2013 NASCAR would be much more interesting if Tony put a kid in the car (Larson, Dillon, Burton) instead of the same old retreads. We NEED some new blood in this stagnant series.

Granite Trek
08/09/2013 11:50 AM
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Us questioning him is irrelevant. We’re just fans who he has often said don’t know what we are talking about when it comes to racing and his life. He doesn’t care what we think.

The ones who do have a right to question him, and he does have to worry about, are his sponsors, which make the world go around in NASCAR. His team wouldn’t exist without them. You can be darn sure that when the #14 becomes a backmarker with a backup driver and no screen time for whatever company is on the hood, there will be objections from them, and I suspect they’ll want a clause their sponsorship contract that either forbids him from racing lower levels or gives them an out and/or refund if he can’t make races due to injuries in the lower levels.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters

If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

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