Tony Stewart will miss lots of things about being a NASCAR Sprint Cup series driver. One thing he won’t miss: His role as a frequent and often-outspoken voice for his fellow drivers.
“It’s extremely exhausting,” said Stewart, a three-time champion who is retiring as a driver on NASCAR’s top circuit after this season. “It’s not that it’s a weight, but at the same time, sometimes you’re asking, why am I fighting this fight and not getting anywhere?
“That’s part of the reason I’m retiring. I’m tired of the responsibility for it. It’s somebody else’s fight now.”
Stewart, 45, has eight races left in his Cup career, which continues this Sunday in the Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Often a critic of the sport he loves when he has felt it necessary, Stewart hasn’t toned down this season.
“I’m the one guy, who guys come to talk to about something,” said Stewart. “And if I’m (angry) enough to talk about it and I believe it’s not getting enough attention and it’s time to go in a different way, I’ll call attention to it.
“Sometimes I get my hand slapped for it.”
In April, he warned that a NASCAR’s recent lug-nut policy could have dire safety consequences. NASCAR quickly fined Stewart $35,000 – then changed the rule later in the week.
“I’m pretty transparent about things,” said Stewart. “I always have been, always will. I doubt at 45 that anything is going to change in me that will make me less transparent.”
But Stewart also admitted that he’s learned over the years how to better pick his spots. The timing of his lug-nut comments perfectly illustrate that.
“I had a talk with (NASCAR vice chairman) Mike Helton a long time ago,” Stewart said. “I know when there are times when I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what I’m complaining about or feel, I’m 100 percent right on money.
“I also learned that, yeah, I’m right, but in the bigger picture of things, the reason things haven’t changed or that’s not the direction to go, it’s part of a bigger picture that has to be in sync with each other.
“That’s where I get exhausted fighting the fight.”
Stewart is more concerned now with finishing his Cup driving career on a high note. He’s 15th in the 16-driver Chase, so he needs either a victory or a high finish (with poor finishes from drivers ahead of him in the standings) at Sunday’s race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway to advance to the 12-driver second round.
“I’m still a competitor, I still want to win as much as I did last year and the year before, over the last 38 years,” he said. “All I want to do is win races and win championships.
“(Sunday) I’ve still got to get every spot I can and when it’s over and they do the math, we’ll know where we’re at. There’s only one car of 40 out there that I can control – mine. So you go out and do the best with what you’ve got.”
Kevin Harvick, an SHR driver who won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last week, said drivers who count Stewart out of the Chase do so at their peril.
“Everybody bet against Tony to even be in the Chase,” said Harvick. “He can go to any racetrack and win. He’s Tony Stewart. I wouldn’t bet against him. I don’t know what his circumstances and scenario are going into Dover, but we’ll do everything we can to help him get to the point where he needs to be to try to move on.”
Stewart, who is co-owner of his Cup team Stewart-Haas Racing, will stay deeply involved in the sport. SHR is starting an Xfinity Series team in 2017 and he also has ownership in other teams in other auto racing divisions. He also hopes to race in at least 40 short track races in 2017.
“But I’m not ready for this to be done,” Stewart said of racing his No. 14 Chevy. “I’m excited about next year, but I’m also excited about the next eight weeks.”