Tony Stewart has earned right to race sprint cars
May 29, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live | Sign up for RaceView today
Tony Stewart's return to the cockpit of a winged sprint car this week generated quite a bit of attention in the racing community because it was a sprint car accident last August that nearly ended his driving career.
Stewart shattered his right leg when he crashed while racing in Iowa. Months of rehabilitation followed. He missed the final 15 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and fell from 11th in points to 29th.
After 521 consecutive starts, the Indiana native suddenly found himself on the sidelines.
Throughout his recovery, Stewart remained steadfast in his belief that he would be competing in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series when the 2014 season unfolded in February, and that he would eventually return to racing winged sprint cars.
He's accomplished the first and appears closer to completing the second.
The allure of the sprints, light weighing rockets that are heavy with horsepower, is easy to understand. They're the backbone of Stewart’s racing career, and the lessons they taught him is one of the reasons for his success in other series.
Sprint cars are fighter jet fast and rumble like thunder. When everything is working correctly, they don’t race out of the turns so much as they launch out of them.
When things arent going so well, a driver can feel as if he or she has lassoed a tornado.
Few people have ever handled them better than Stewart.
The list of reasons why Stewart, 43, shouldn't be back in a sprint car is a long one and it's filled with stuffy, yet necessary terms, such as sponsorship obligations, personal appearances and other financial considerations.
He is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which fields four cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
He is the driver of the organization’s No. 14 Chevrolet, with primary sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers and Code 3 Associates.
His other business ventures include, but certainly are not limited to, ownership of USAC and World of Outlaw teams, race tracks (among those in his portfolio is Eldora Speedway, which in 2013 hosted the first NASCAR national series event on dirt in 43 years), a public relations firm and real estate and trucking companies. Not to mention the Tony Stewart Foundation, merchandising company and branded foodstuffs.
Competing outside the NASCAR bubble carries a certain amount of risks, but Stewart has never been one to put his fate in the hands of others.
Two years removed from winning the Indy Racing League's championship in 1997, and several more from tearing up the USAC ranks, Stewart began scoring wins and contending for the title in NASCAR's Cup Series. He became the first rookie to win three races during his debut season.
After winning 33 races and two championships with Joe Gibbs Racing, he was presented an unexpected opportunity – half ownership in what is now Stewart-Haas Racing.
Haas Racing, as it was previously known, had managed just one top-five finish in 284 attempts following its debut in 2002.
Since Stewart's arrival, the organization has won 22 times, including 15 by Stewart, who added a third series championship in 2011.
Now, with one-third of this year’s Cup schedule complete, he is still searching for the setup and circumstances that will take him back to Victory Lane. It’s been a year since he last beat everyone to the checkered flag – the win coming at Dover International Speedway, site of this weekend's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.
Stewart has won at least one Cup race each season since he began racing Cup. Admittedly, a notoriously slow starter, he has registered his first win of the season only four times before the calendar turns to June.
In the meantime, the sprint cars are calling.
Maybe Stewart, who enters this weekend’s race 22nd points, should focus on getting his Cup team up to speed. Maybe he has no business getting back in a sprint car.
But it’s his decision to make. And that’s all that matters.
He doesn’t golf and he doesn’t garden. Tony Stewart races.
Whatever and whenever he chooses.