If anyone thinks Tony Stewart is having second thoughts about retiring at season’s end, forget it.
“I’m ready to go run stuff that makes me happy and driving a Sprint Cup car does not make me happy right now,” Stewart said Friday at Sonoma Raceway. “A lot of things have changed. The atmosphere has changed. There is so much stuff in the garage area that has changed that it was time for me to make a change with it.
“I’ve dedicated 18 years of my life to this series and it’s done great by me. I’ve made a great living doing it, but at the same time there are other things in life I want to do other than be at a NASCAR track three days a week for 38 weekends out of 52 weeks a year. There are just other things I want to do now.”
While he’ll remain co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, the Indiana native has a lot of “other things” he wants to do.
“I never dreamed there was going to be a time that I was going to think about something like this,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t overnight.
“There were weeks that you would think about, ‘Man, I really want to go to Monaco and see the Monaco Grand Prix, or I really want to go to Knoxville, Iowa, and be out there for the A-main of the Knoxville Nationals or the Kings Royal at Eldora.’
“There are things I want to do that because of our schedule you don’t have time to do it. There is just not enough time to do everything you want to do. It’s time for me to do this.”
Stewart is starting a string where he’ll make the final appearances of his career at places like Sonoma this weekend and Daytona next weekend.
“Definitely next week there is nothing I’m going to miss about that,” Stewart said of Daytona, where he has had success but never won the sport’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
But as for Sonoma, Stewart has a different mindset.
“This has always been a cool place,” Stewart said. “This track is one where you race the racetrack. It’s you against the track every week. The restarts create the carnage here and guys doing stupid stuff, but when you get into a run and you get a long green flag run like that is when it’s fun here because you are racing the racetrack and what you’ve got to do to make yourself fast.
“It’s not that same feeling of wheel-to-wheel competition that you get other places, but this track is more challenging than the competition is. If you can beat the track, you can win the race too.”
Stewart and former NASCAR great Ernie Irvan were inducted into Sonoma Raceway’s Wall of Fame on Friday, joining a number of motorsports greats including team owner Roger Penske, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees Mark Martin and team owner Rick Hendrick, as well as Jeff Gordon and Ricky Rudd.
“Anytime you get inducted into anything it’s a huge honor,” Stewart said. “This has always been one of my favorite race tracks. To be on their wall of fame, that means something to me.”
But as congenial as he was at the Wall of Fame induction, Stewart showed some of his old bark and bite after an incident with Jamie McMurray during Friday’s first Sprint Cup practice session.
“I had Jamie McMurray screw us up on a lap,” Stewart said. “He was trying to do a qualifying lap. Some of the things some of these guys do nowadays doesn’t make sense.
“When we had Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. and Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett and those guys they were able to get their arms around these guys and get them to listen and make sense. There is really nobody here that can do that anymore. Everybody is out of control out there.”
Including Sunday, Stewart has 21 more races to compete in before he calls it a career as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He knows it’s his time to bid adieu and see what’s happening in the non-racing world.
“When you have raced for 38 years that is all you know, it’s all you think about, that is all you dream about,” he said. “When you wake up, you are thinking about it, while you are eating breakfast, that is all you do.
“I just can’t imagine that there is not more to life than this. I know there is. I know people that talk about it all the time. I’ve got friends like Don Prudhomme and Ray Evernham and guys that are already retired that talk about how much fun they are having.
“I’m like, man that sounds like a good time to me.”