News & Media

Caraviello: It's Keselowski's title, but it's still Tony's town

November 28, 2012, David Caraviello,

LAS VEGAS -- His reign atop NASCAR's premier series may have ended two weeks ago, but make no mistake about it -- when it comes to NASCAR drivers, Tony Stewart remains the king of Las Vegas.

That much was evident last year, when Champions Week in this neon capital turned into a sometimes ribald, always playful five days that reflected the spirit of the three-time series winner. Now it's Brad Keselowski's turn to be celebrated out in the desert, and the new titlist -- who often has a cold Miller Lite in hand -- seems quite ready and willing to do his part. Even so, Vegas is Stewart's town, something demonstrated once again Wednesday when the driver/owner was the star of a game-show takeoff held at a fan fest on Fremont Street.

* Video: Chase drivers test their school smarts

"You've still got your washboard stomach. You're just carrying a little more laundry on it," host Kevin Burke chided Stewart during an event in which the 12 Chase participants were teamed up with area fifth-graders and asked to answer trivia questions that -- on the surface, at least -- seemed relatively simple. But anything goes with drivers involved, as evidenced by the quizzical looks, incorrect answers, and occasional botched math that defined the one-hour show held on a stage under Fremont Street's sprawling electronic canopy.

"We're going to need all the help we can get," Keselowski said, and indeed many of the drivers leaned heavily on their pre-teen partners for advice. In fairness, the drivers occasionally held their own. Greg Biffle knew Asia the continent that sat east of Europe, and Denny Hamlin rattled off a string of correct answers in quick succession. But there were hiccups, like when Kevin Harvick tried to answer a word problem by pulling out a Sharpie and doing the math -- and still came up 100 short.

"It's really a dream come true for us. Since 1970, the national series have never been to a dirt track. To imagine that 42 years later we're going to be taking a national NASCAR series back to a dirt track is a huge honor for us."


"Forgot to carry the 1," he said sheepishly. "We're race car drivers for a reason."

Or when Jimmie Johnson insisted that cantaloupe was among the fruits that had only one seed. "You've got six championships and $8 billion. Quit complaining," shot back Burke, a comedian who hosts a show at a Las Vegas hotel.

This time, Johnson knew the right answer: "Five," he corrected him.

Stewart, though, regaled in the moment, getting the questions correct even when he didn't mean to. Perhaps no surprise given how he embraced the Champions Week experience in Las Vegas a year ago, needling his fellow drivers in a takeoff of "The Newlywed Game," becoming a fixture at the craps table, flying every Stewart-Haas Racing employee out for the awards ceremony, and inviting everyone in the industry to the afterparty. His "Stewie" awards, a vestige of the days when he hosted a satellite radio program, remain a Champions Week fixture. Heck, he even won the race out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.

So yes, this battle of drivers against elementary-school students was bound to turn into Stewart's show, even though he was teamed with the new champion. True or false: Vermont was one of the original 13 United States colonies. The real answer is false, given that the territory was claimed by New York and New Hampshire until it was admitted as the 14th state.

No need for help from Keselowski or the fifth-grader on this one. "It would have been 13 states, and not 13 colonies," the three-time champion intoned with certainty.

Short answer: No. Correct! Hey, he backed into it as if another driver had spun off the final corner, but no matter. Later, Tony Logic prevailed again when he was asked to identify an example of hyperbole. "Hi what?" Stewart asked at first. Three examples were given, the correct answer being "so hungry, I could eat a horse." Stewart leaned back in his chair.

"Well, I am so hungry I could eat a horse," Stewart said, accidentally claiming another correct answer, this time by poking fun at his waistline. "... I am that hungry, but I'll take the credit."

Indeed he would, and why not? It was a big day all around for Stewart, who despite winning three times this season placed ninth in final Sprint Cup standings. Earlier Wednesday his Stewart-Haas team announced that four sponsors had re-signed with the organization to cover a total of 10 races on the car of teammate Ryan Newman. And along with NASCAR, he confirmed that the Ohio short track he owns, Eldora Speedway, would host a Camping World Truck Series event on July 24 -- a Wednesday night race that will mark the sport's first national-series event on dirt since 1970.

"It's really a dream come true for us," Stewart, who bought the Rossburg, Ohio track in 2004, said on a teleconference. "... Since 1970, the national series have never been to a dirt track. To imagine that 42 years later we're going to be taking a national NASCAR series back to a dirt track is a huge honor for us."

So yes, leading his team to victory in the Fremont Street event was just icing on the cake. It came down to one final winner-take-all question, another of those word problems that had caused so much trouble: If Emma had two yard sticks and a 12-inch ruler and laid them all down end-to-end, how long would the line be? There was a lot of glancing around. There were ongoing mental calculations. Finally, Stewart leaned into the microphone to offer the clincher.

"Should be seven feet," he said.

And with that, the three-time series champion secured another Las Vegas triumph. No backing into this one -- like his most recent series title, he just reached out and took it. Afterward Stewart was whisked away in a van that carried him and the other 11 drivers back to their lodgings on the Strip. A craps table probably awaited him, somewhere. Yes, Keselowski may be the champion now, but in Las Vegas, Stewart still rules.