Tony Stewart spent last Saturday night slinging dirt at Atomic Speedway in rural Chillicothe, Ohio, blissfully unaware of the post-race donnybrook that erupted after the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.
Stewart prevailed in the sprint-car main event, went through post-race obligations and autograph signing, packed up and hit the road. Five miles from the track, Stewart and Co. regained cellular service from what he termed a “virtual black hole” and his phone started to crackle — not with congratulations for this sprint-car success, but with a PSA about Stewart-Haas Racing employee Clint Bowyer and his role in an All-Star dust-up with adversary Ryan Newman.
“I got five miles down the road and then all of a sudden, I’m getting all these texts,” Stewart says. “I’m like, ‘How do all these people know we won that fast?’ And it wasn’t about us, it was about Clint’s deal. Finally, I got another five miles down the road where I got a real signal, and somebody goes: ‘Look at Twitter,’ and I got to see the clip of it. I had no idea that him and Newman had some kind of altercation during the race.
“That’s the first thing I did was text Clint and I said, ‘Listen, take your helmet off if you’re going to get in a fight for Pete’s sakes.’ And he goes, ‘I didn’t have time!’ But then the second text I sent him, I said don’t lose that passion to fight for what you believe in.”
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Bowyer’s passion mirrored the bravado-fueled approach that has carried Stewart in his racing career, one of the many factors that propelled him to his election Wednesday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
Another defining Stewart trait is humor, which he applied liberally to teasing his successor in his No. 14 ride.
“No, Bowyer’s not even close to the Hall of Fame yet. That kid has to take his helmet off if he’s going to fight,” Stewart said. It’s worth noting here that Stewart is 48 years old; ‘Kid’ Bowyer is eight days from turning 40. “These kids leave their helmets on to fight. Men take their helmets off and they fight. If you’re gonna fight, fight.”
Stewart said that he’s interested to see where Bowyer and Newman go from here. Bowyer is in his third season driving for the SHR organization that Stewart co-owns; Newman was Stewart’s original teammate when Stewart-Haas launched its inaugural season in 2009.
For the immediate time being, Stewart says he might be an interested spectator in their next public appearance.
“I think the funniest thing, the best part of that whole thing is that Clint and Newman are doing an autograph session (Thursday) at Bass Pro Shops, and I’m actually in town, I might dress incognito and go through that line to see what I can get signed from those two guys and see what they’re doing,” Stewart said. “It’ll be interesting to see if they’re sitting at the same table, if they’re at different tables, if they’re looking at each other, if they’re speaking to each other. I have no idea where they’re at, but it’ll be interesting to see where they’re at tomorrow.”