RICHMOND, Va. – The hard lessons learned by Tony Stewart over 20 years in the Sprint Cup Series are being returned in kind during his final lap around the circuit.
That has “zero to do” with the three-time series champion’s impending retirement, and everything to do with a firm belief in an old-school philosophy that the best way to express displeasure over getting roughed up is to play rough in return.
Stewart sent that message of payback to Brian Scott at Darlington Raceway last week, turning the Richard Petty Motorsports driver into the wall.
“There’s a lot of guys this week that were like, ‘Yeah, we were glad somebody did that,’” Stewart said about intentionally wrecking Scott in the Southern 500. “And that’s the way it used to be.”
Stewart admittedly cut off his former teammate, whom he felt had pinched off his No. 14 Chevrolet three times earlier. The contact triggered an eight-car crash and effectively ended Newman’s long-shot bid for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which Stewart felt contributed to Newman’s aggression.
“He had to press the issue tonight and put himself in a couple of bad spots,” Stewart said. “There’s 39 other guys you can put yourself in bad spots with. Don’t put yourself in a bad spot with me and don’t start shoving me around the racetrack because he knows from experience I don’t put up with it.”
Newman was aggrieved about the incident and blasted Stewart, who became a close friend during their five-year stint at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It’s a stressful night for him,” Stewart said. “He was trying to make the Chase. It’s stressful moments, so he’s going to say whatever he’s going to say. I’d say by that he probably doesn’t want to be friends right now. So it’s up to him.”
But his sympathy was limited because “it’s like how many times is he supposed to hit you before you say I’ve had enough of it for the day?
“He put himself in that position, and the end of it was the end of it,” Stewart said. “He has to make his decisions for what he’s doing in his car, too. So he can blame me all he wants, but he’s got two pedals and a steering wheel, too, and he has to make good decisions in what’s in his best interests as well.”
Though it seems unlikely the fellow Indiana natives quickly will patch things up, Stewart said he and Scott found common ground in a prerace conversation Saturday.
“We had a great conversation,” Stewart said. “He wasn’t mad when we left. I wasn’t mad at him. He’s not mad at me, and we go racing. He understood.”
The same conversations happened for him with veterans such as Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt nearly two decades ago.
“I didn’t do anything different than what they did,” he said. “That’s how rookies learned then.”
He seemed to be hoping for a similar understanding from Newman.
“It’s not a feud,” Stewart said. “It’s one night. It’s one moment in time. When it’s over tonight, it’s over.
“He’s got a right to be mad about it, but I got a right to be mad for what he did to me. He wasn’t innocent like he’s acting. He never said once that he run into me three times. His version of how he was driving his car and mine are a little bit different.”