Tony Stewart’s final season as a NASCAR Cup driver will be conducted on his own terms, thank you very much.
“Giving away ponies at race tracks, that kind of circus, we’re going to try and control that,” Stewart said Thursday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. “We’re going to do it our way; we’ve earned that.”
Stewart’s not-too subtle “ponies” reference pointed to Jeff Gordon’s retirement tour in 2015. Gordon was honored at each track on the circuit, usually with a formal press conference followed by a gift. Among those presents were two ponies for his children from Texas Motor Speedway.
“What they did for Jeff last year was great,” said Stewart. “But I don’t think I’m deserving of that treatment. It’s just not me.”
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Stewart said he will want to focus on his final year as a Cup driver. His first priority, he said, is winning the Daytona 500, a race he has never won. He certainly hopes his final season is better than the past few. He hasn’t won since 2013 and hasn’t made the Chase since 2012.
In 2013, Stewart broke his leg in a sprint car accident. In 2014, the car he was driving in a sprint car race on a dirt track in New York struck and killed another driver. Stewart was never charged criminally, but still faces a lawsuit from Kevin Ward Jr.’s family.
To get ready for this season, Stewart parted ways with crew chief Chad Johnson (replacing him with Michael Bugarewicz). Stewart said he has even lost weight and changed his diet.
“We’re eating better, drinking better, working out doing stuff that I swore I’d never do,” he said.
Stewart’s offseason has been eventful. He made news last week he confronted a heckler at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla. He didn’t offer any explanation for the incident Thursday.
“I think the people that were there knew what happened,” said Stewart. “If anybody wants to know what happened, they should have been there to see themselves.
“People will make judgments know matter what we do. So I’m not going to try to justify or explain what happened there.”
Media tour notes
▪ Leavine Family Racing and Circle Sport Racing will combine to field a full-time Cup team this season. Michael McDowell will drive in at least 26 races, with Ty Dillon driving the remaining races. The team will also have an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Thrivent Financial will be the team’s primary sponsor for 15 races. Both drivers will race in the season-opening Daytona 500.
▪ Alex Bowman and Tommy Baldwin Racing have parted ways. The team had picked up Bowman’s 2016 option last summer.
“As NASCAR transitions to different business and competition models, teams have to make decisions accordingly,” said team owner Tommy Baldwin.