The Tony Stewart era in NASCAR is coming to a close. One of the sport’s most intimidating drivers is hanging up his helmet at the end of next season and his illustrious career is one that few can compare to.
In January, I had the opportunity to meet Stewart at Media Week in Charlotte. His scruffy beard, matched with his wry smile as he looked me in the eye spoke for itself. I did not even have to interview him to get a story. Stewart’s life had been in shambles over the past two years, with a horrific leg injury in 2013 and the chaotic scene created at a dirt track in Upstate New York on a Saturday evening in Aug. 2014.
His life had a new perspective and a changed demeanor. A calmer, less intimidating Stewart showed up that day for Media Week. As he looked at me, he joked about an attempt to lose weight, saying that he’s still trying not to break the scale in his house. It was clear that Stewart realized there was far more to life than driving behind the wheel.
With three Sprint Cup Series championships Stewart will undoubtedly retire as a Hall of Famer. His controversial career is one that is lacking in the current era of NASCAR with the exception of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick, both of whom are never afraid to voice their opinions. With 48 triumphs, he can speak on behalf of the rest of the sport when need be, and that he has done.
But what always stuck out in my mind was Stewart’s dominance when he stepped behind the wheel of an XFINITY Series vehicle. His persistence at Daytona for the season opener from 2008 until ’11 was unlike anything I had seen at the time. Think about how difficult it is to take the checkered flag ahead of the field at a restrictor plate track, dodging each wreck and putting yourself in the right position at the right time. Yeah, it is not easy. Stewart did it four years in a row, five out of seven until his leg injury prevented him from attempting the race last year.
Now, with Stewart’s retirement announcement officially in the books, let’s take a look at some of the most impressive runs he had in the XFINITY Series, where he has made 94 starts between Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, and Kevin Harvick Incorporated, along with a handful of other teams.
The 2013 Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona. A horrific crash on the final lap allows Stewart, positioned in third place to unexpectedly win his fifth season-opening event in the series in six years.
The 2010 Nationwide Series event at Daytona. Stewart wins his third straight season opener, this time driving for Kevin Harvick’s Nationwide Series team.
The 2006 Hershey’s Kissables 300 at Daytona. Stewart takes the season opener for NASCAR’s second-tier division in his first on-track action since winning the 2005 Sprint Cup championship.
The 2008 season opener at Daytona. Stewart earns his third victory in the “first race” for the newly-named Nationwide Series. In all, seven of Stewart’s 11 career victories in the sport’s second-tier division have come at Daytona.
A LOOK AROUND XFINITY
- Eric McClure has been cleared to race this weekend following a concussion that took him to the hospital following a wreck Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway. “Wanted to say thank you to everyone for the concern & support the past few days,” he tweeted. “It never ceases to amaze & bring great encouragement. I’ve spent the past few days resting & going through the steps set forth by professionals & I’ve received clearance to return @ Dover.” McClure is 20th in the standings this season, still without a top-10 finish in 27 starts.
- Could this weekend be the one where Darrell Wallace, Jr. breaks through? Remember, last time around at Dover Wallace was leading down the stretch, fuel strategy putting the No. 6 car in position to win until an on-track scrape with point leader Chris Buescher doomed his chances. One person that’s Wallace’s “rival” has been eliminated from the garage area: Brian Allen, the bus driver for Brian Scott has been indefinitely suspended by NASCAR as the result of a scuffle following Saturday night’s wild ending at Kentucky Speedway. Whitney Scott, Brian’s wife and Wallace were given probation through December 31st following their role in an incident stemming from contact on the race’s final restart.
- Buescher, the defending race winner is feeling some heat from Ty Dillon behind him. Dillon, posting an average finish of 5.0 the last three races has cut the title deficit from 29 to 19 heading to Dover this weekend. Eighth in the spring, this event is crucial to his chances of making a race out of the big trophy with only six races left on the schedule.
MORE ON STEWART RETIREMENT