When Stewart finally does talk to his former Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, the three-time Sprint Cup champion indicated he’s ready for bygones about the incident. After effectively being eliminated from a shot at the playoffs in the wreck, Newman called Stewart “bipolar” and made an oblique reference to Kevin Ward Jr., who was struck and killed by a sprint car driven by Stewart in 2014.
“It would be easy to take it personal, but that was the deciding factor in his season, whether he was going to make the Chase or not,” Stewart said Thursday during the Chase for the Sprint Cup Media Day. “We’ve been friends a long time. We were teammates. I respect him a lot. It’s a high-pressure moment. I’ve been in those, too. I’ve said things, too.
“Whether he meant to say it or not, or whether he still believes it or not, that’s up to him, but that moment is a hard moment for any of us. It’s tough in that scenario, so I can’t blame him.”
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said Monday that the sanctioning body would talk with Newman and Stewart before practice Friday at the 1.5-mile-oval in Joliet, Illinois.
Stewart expected NASCAR would invite both into its official trailer for a discussion aimed at proactively defusing festering ill will. In the 2015 playoffs, Matt Kenseth was suspended for two races after intentionally wrecking Joey Logano out of the lead while nine laps down at Martinsvsille Speedway. Kenseth was angry because Logano had spun him from the lead for a win at Kansas Speedway two weeks earlier.
NASCAR didn’t meet with either driver as the feud escalated, prompting questions about whether it could have been managed better.
“A lot of this is they’re trying to make sure that they don’t have a scenario like what they had last year with Joey and Matt,” Stewart said. “So I think it gets a little blown out of proportion for each individual incident. They’re just making sure they don’t get themselves in that kind of scenario again.”
Don’t expect a repeat with Newman, either, Stewart said.
“If you think that’s going to be a storyline for 10 weeks, then you’re going to miss a lot because you’re going to be wasting your time on something that’s not even relevant,” he said. “This Chase is going to be pretty intense in itself. You’ve got 16 great drivers. You’ve got three-week segments where you keep knocking four guys off. It’s going to be pretty crazy these last 10 weeks.”