Smoke Speaks: The wit, wisdom and worldview of Tony Stewart through the years (Part Two)


HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The second installment of our excerpts from the most memorable and revealing interviews with Tony Stewart covers the final eight years of his NASCAR career.

It was a period of immense professional growth for Stewart, who became a co-owner of a Sprint Cup team, brought a NASCAR national series race to a dirt track for the first time in 40 years and won a third championship.

But it also marked much personal tumult and tragedy for Stewart, who missed the last 18 races of 2013 with a broken right leg, three races in 2014 while grieving over the death of Kevin Ward Jr. and eight races in 2016 after breaking his back.

Here’s a sampling of Stewart interviews from 2008-2016 (click here for the first part of the series):

CHARLOTTE, Oct. 19, 2016

After a Mobil 1 appearance to help change the oil in his No. 14 hauler before it headed to Talladega, Stewart was in a reflective mood, sticking around to talk to reporters off the record for nearly as long as he took questions on wide-ranging subjects.

Q: Any plans to ride to the track in your team’s truck?

Stewart: “I used to do that. My very first trip with Harry Ranier’s team in ’96, I rode in the hauler all the way down to Daytona. I saved about $150 in gas money. As a rookie Busch Grand National driver, $150 was a lot of money to me.”

Q: Rick Hendrick recently said he offered you a Sprint Cup ride around that time. What’s your side of that story?

Stewart: “(It was offered) in the fall of ’96. I’d only ran eight Busch Grand National races with Harry, and I crashed out of two thirds of them, so I was fairly certain I wasn’t ready to jump in a Cup car quite yet. At that time, I was making all the decisions with my future. You’ve got one step to go (in NASCAR), the last thing you want to do is make that move too soon or not in the right deal. Obviously the Hendrick deal was the dream deal, but if I moved too soon or didn’t do a good job, the next thing you know you’re going back down the ladder, not up. So as hard as it was to make that decision to not do that, it may have worked out fine. We’ll never know. I felt like it was safer to make that decision and taking the time to make sure I felt I was ready before I went. I wanted to make sure I didn’t make a move and have to worry about going backward.”

Q: Have you thought about life after this season?

Stewart: “I’ve got to get through five weeks and five days. Not that I’m counting. Once I get through that five weeks and five days, then I have plenty of time to think about the rest of my life. It’s really not a big change and big adjustment. I’ve got plenty of projects to keep me busy and that I stay active in anyway, so 90 percent of what I do won’t change, I just won’t be in a uniform driving a Cup car.”

Q: What is the emotion going to be like after the final race?

Stewart: “As soon as we get out of the car at Homestead, I’m going to ask if there’s an A main I can get a ride in that night at a dirt race. I’m very comfortable doing what I’m doing. I’m excited about what I’m going to do next year. If you retire and you’re not excited about it at the end of it, you’ve done something wrong. It’s proof I’m doing the right thing for me, and I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.”

Q: What’s your greatest accomplishment?

Stewart: “I have no clue. I think it’s all a matter of opinion. To different people, it’s different things. What I might think, you might think different. I’m proud of everything we’ve done. There’s little races that nobody has ever heard of, and there might only been a 1,000 people in the grandstands that were some of my greatest accomplishments. People weren’t there to see it. Media didn’t see it, but I know in my heart that was a big deal. There’s a lot of those moments that have come in the last 38 years.

“If you ultimately had to pick one, it would be hard to beat 2011 at Homestead. To battle that much adversity through the whole day, and it started early in the race. It was a have-to-win scenario. To pull that off, for what was on the line for an individual win, that’s about as big as it gets.”


In a news conference at the team shop, Stewart announces his retirement after the 2016 season.

Stewart: “I think it’s more of a formality. I think you guys already know everything you need to know. But yeah, next year will be my last year in the Sprint Cup Series. It was a choice that was 100 percent mine. There wasn’t any pressure from anybody. If anything it was the opposite. I had more people trying to talk me out of it than anything. You know, I think it’s a scenario where everybody in their career at some point makes the decision that it’s time for a change and it’s nothing that you plan. I think it happens.  I think deep down you know when it’s time to do something to make a change like this.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet day. I’m excited about it, but at the same time I’m sad about it, as well. I love what I do with NASCAR, and I love what I do as a driver, and the great thing is I’m not going anywhere. NASCAR is probably going to be the most disappointed of everybody today because they aren’t getting rid of me. They have to deal with me as an owner.  There’s still the opportunity to get fined and there’s still the opportunity to be put on probation, just like always.”

Q: What has been the impact of the leg injury and the death of Kevin Ward Jr. on this decision?

Stewart: “Zero percent. This is strictly what I want to do, and my leg feels fine. The tragedy, nothing is going to change that.  It happened, but it’s not going to direct the rest of my life.  I’m still going to go race when I want to go race, but as far as the Cup Series, it had no bearing on that.”

Q: Do you have any regrets?

Stewart: “I think everything that’s happened in my life has happened for a reason. I think there’s things that I would like to have skipped in my life and things that have not happen, but I think everything in the big picture has happened for a reason and is part of something that’s a lot bigger than what we are in this room.”


In the Camping World Truck Series’ second visit to his dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio, Stewart spent the weekend singing the praises of slinging dirt while lobbying for more NASCAR races – particularly during an animated postrace session.

Q: What was your view of the battle between Bubba Wallace Jr. and Kyle Larson?

Stewart: “I’m going to sum this up really short and really easy. If you didn’t like that race, you don’t know what racing is all about. Because when you have a half-mile dirt track and have trucks legitimately four wide and three wide for a bunch of the race, we don’t even have that at any of our big races (in Sprint Cup), that four-wide and three-wide action. As good as it was last year, this definitely topped it.”

Q: Are you thinking about how to top this and bring more NASCAR events here?

Stewart: “Absolutely. I think my brain thinks in circles and squares and this is a lot bigger than that. Last year far exceeded my expectations and I left here going, ‘Now what are we going to do? How are we going to beat that?’ In my mind, we far beat last year by a mile and knocked it out of the park. So now I’ll leave here going, ‘What are we going to do?’ That’s the benefit of having someone like (Eldora general manager) Roger (Slack) on staff that worked under one of the greatest promoters of all time in Humpy Wheeler. To bring in someone like Roger who thinks outside the box, there is no one else that could have handled it the day I made phone call and said there’s a possibility I could run a truck race here. Most of them would have passed out on the phone. Roger never batted an eye and knew exactly what he was going to do.

“I get to look good and be the one everyone pats on the back. I do the least amount of work of anybody around here. He does the most and probably gets the least amount of credit for it. I just have good people. I’ve been lucky my whole life being surrounded by good people. Being able to put it all together. There’s no dirt track in the country that’s ever pulled anything like this off.”


 After six hours of running through a bevy of commercial shoots, sponsor appearances and autograph signings, Stewart spared a few introspective moments in his motorhome before dinner.

Q: Many of your sponsors are engaging in social media campaigns. When will you join Twitter?

Stewart: Why are you looking at me? Look at him (points at PR rep Mike Arning). He’s the holdup on it. (Arning: He can. I’ve let him know it’s a commitment. You can’t just start and quit it). Yes I can! I don’t know I want to be as diehard as some of these people. I might dabble in it a little bit.

“The reason I don’t is I’m scared of saying something that may get taken the wrong way. I already deal with enough of that crap as it is. Do I want to subject myself to one more thing that can be that way? Everyone wants more access, but as soon as you get the access to us, and we do something wrong, you’re setting yourself up to get shot down. It’s hard because people want us to be genuine, but then when you’ve got the (jerks), it’s like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Eventually, you get pissed off at somebody and say, ‘All right, I’ve had enough of this,’ because of it.”

Q: On a day heavy with PR and sponsor commitments, do you even look at the schedule of obligations and responsibilities?

Stewart: It doesn’t matter whether I look at it or not, Mike’s going to make me do what I want anyway. That’s the reality of it. There are some things I can absolutely throw a fit about, and I’m still going to have to do it because he’s told me. In a lot of ways, I work for him on weekends. He’s getting the stuff done that needs to get done. And the thing is we work with each other long enough, he doesn’t come to me with stuff that doesn’t make sense.”

Q: But in the last four years as a car owner, you’ve noticed the schedule has gotten more harried?

Stewart: “Oh God, yes. There’s no doubt.”

Q: But it’s worth it?

Stewart: “Next question.”

Q: Most days, it’s worth it?

Stewart: “There are some days you go, ‘Why am I doing this?’ And there’s some days it’s, ‘Yeah, there’s no doubt why I’m doing this.’ It’s no different than anything else in anybody else’s life. Doesn’t matter how simple or complex your life is. There are days you hate it and days you love it.”

Q: On balance, life is good, though?

Stewart: “Yeah. I drive a race car for a living. My car owner lets me go race as many sprint car races as I want to go run. Mike’s the thorn in my ass. Life’s good.”

Q: As you enter the 15th year of trying to win Daytona, has it become the Holy Grail the way winning Indianapolis was?

Stewart: “Oh yeah. It’s the biggest race of my year. Yeah. It’s still never going to take Indy’s place because of where I’ve grown up. But as far as my career right now, that’s it now. There’s always going to be a blank spot at the top of the page no matter if I win this race or not. There’s always going to be one blank spot above this for the Indy 500 that may or may never get filled. It’s the top goal every year.”

Q: Are those blanks spots here and Indy something you think about it?

Stewart: “Oh yeah, every year when May comes around you’re thinking about, ‘What if?’ That’s been consistent for every year that I haven’t run it. It’s always been the same. That doesn’t change. The degree of that doesn’t change. You always still want to go back and do it. You still want to win that race. The hard part about the Daytona 500 is that’s all you think about once Homestead is over. Which makes sense, that’s what you should be thinking about is wining the biggest race of the year. The hard part is it’s the first race of the year, and if you don’t win it, you can’t go back. You can win the next five races, and it doesn’t take the place of winning the Daytona 500. You have to wait 365 days. That’s the hard part. You’ve got the whole rest of the year. It’s not like we’ve got the winter to start, and we’ll work toward that again. You missed it, and now you’ve got to run the rest of the year. Then you’ve got an offseason, then you get to drive. It’s a hard way to wait to have an opportunity to win the biggest race of the year. That’s the hard part. If you don’t get it done, you can’t go the next week and fix it. You can try to win another race, but you can’t try to win the Daytona 500.”

Q: If you had one race left to run in your career, where would it be?

Stewart: “The hard part is knowing it’s going to be the last race. That would be the hard part. The thing is if someone just said you got one more race you can run. By the time you get to the last race, most of those options are gone. That’s why it’s the last race anyway. It’s injury or age or whatever it is. Oh, man.”

Q: But if it could be up to you, though, and you could choose wherever?

Stewart: Winning or just running it?

Q: Just running it.

Stewart: Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be Indy or Daytona. Just running your last race, that’s not the way you’d do it. I’m trying to think where I’ve had the most fun racing, and that’s where I’d want to run my last race is someplace I had fun doing it. (Sighs, long pause) What makes that hard is that it’s not just stock-car racing. It’s not just IndyCar racing. It’s sports car racing, sprint car racing. (Long pause) I honestly don’t know. It’s much harder than people think. Because I’ve got a lot more variables than most people do. Most of these guys are thinking of 38 races at 20 tracks or whatever.

Q: Would it be easier if the choice was winning your last race?

Stewart: “If it came down to winning it, it’d be the Knoxville Nationals. If I knew the last race I was going to run, I was going to win. Well, at that point, it’d be the Indy 500. Second would be the Daytona 500. Third would be the Knoxville Nationals.


 In some of his first public comments since breaking his leg in a sprint-car crash, Stewart greets a small group of reporters at his team’s shop.

Q: How bad has the rehabilitation been?

Stewart: “It’s definitely not easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. The worst part of it is the last 20 minutes and that is when I am laying on my stomach and they are digging into the leg trying to break the scar tissue up and loosen everything that’s been reconstructed. You sit there with your face buried in a pillow trying to not remember all the four letter words you’ve been taught over the years.”

Q: How much has this made you appreciate being active?

Stewart: “I have a huge appreciation for just daily things that I can’t do now.  It’s like I have to plan, I have to think about stuff.  Before I get to the end of the hallway I make sure I have everything I need before I go down that flight of steps.” It’s like if you forgot something, no big deal you run back up and get it and not think twice about it.  Now, I have to still think about everything I need to go out of the house.  I don’t want to have to go back and make another trip.”

Q: The team is adding a fourth car. What’s it been like for vice president Greg Zipadelli to add staff for Kurt Busch and also fill out the new team for Kevin Harvick?

Stewart: “I’m the one that gets the phone call when he’s mad about something or he’s had a bad day. That is my role here.  He can call and yell at me anytime he wants. He yells at me a lot more than I’m allowed to yell at him.”

Q: Do you have input in the hiring?

Stewart: “Not really. I trust (Zipadelli’s) judgment. If he’s hired somebody, he’s much more qualified to know why they should be considered for that position than I am.  Having that confidence comes from our relationship in the past. If he says it’s right, then it’s right. We’ve had guys here in the shop that I loved and he said we’ve got to let them go. I don’t second guess anything he says whether to hire somebody or fire somebody. He knows what the goal is and he knows what the objectives are, and he knows what we’re trying to accomplish, and he knows what the plan is, and he’s the guy that has to execute.  That’s a lot of pressure on him as well.”

Q: What will you do during the off-season?

Stewart: “Therapy.  Be a therapist for Zippy. It’s going to be a hard winter and the hardest winter he’s ever had for a long time. There is just so much that has to happen. Unfairly, it shouldn’t be on one person and it’s not, it’s on the organization. We are all one unit and that’s why I’m going to be down here with him.  We’re going to win as a team and lose as a team. Whether I do anything other than walk around and smile and keep everybody upbeat and joke around with the guys, smack them on the back of the leg with the cane if I’m still on it. That’s part of being a car owner. You have to be a cheerleader too.”

LAS VEGAS, Nov. 30, 2012

After his speech at the NASCAR Awards Ceremony, Stewart mulls the passing of the torch.

Q: Will Brad Keselowski need to tone things down as champion?

Stewart: “I don’t think Brad’s learned to be cautious yet. Hopefully that won’t bite him like it has a lot of drivers in the past. It’s refreshing. It’s nice to see somebody who just speaks from the heart and isn’t guarded, and that’s the way all of us should be.”

Q: Are you going to miss the news media in the offseason?

Stewart: “Oh God, no. As much as I like to battle with you guys during the season, there’s a lot of time when we don’t have mics and cameras on that we talk about different things other than racing, and I will miss that.”

Q; Late NASCAR exec Jim Hunter had to help you through some tough moments. Brad’s been able to be himself and hasn’t needed a Jim Hunter to help. Is that a sign things are going in the right direction?

Stewart: “To be perfectly honest, I hope that you guys continue to treat (Keselowski) the way that you are now. That gives him that opportunity to be that way. I think that’s what the fans want to hear. But I’m so scared that at some point, somebody is going to turn on him, and it goes downhill from there. I hope you guys keep doing what you’re doing. I’m proud to see you guys give him a chance to be open like he is. I think it’s great for our sport. I think the sponsors and fans really enjoy that.”

Q: I know you feel people get burned by speaking their mind.

Stewart: “They do. History has proven that.”


A few days after his infamous “goosing” of DeLana Harvick is caught on national TV during the prerace of the Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Stewart had a previously scheduled media appearance.

Q: Do you plan to do that every week?

Stewart: “This is old news. I guess it’s just the first time the cameras caught us, but we’ve been doing that since I was driving the Nationwide car with them. We’ve always joked around and horsed around like that. It just seems like this week when it got caught on camera it was a lot bigger deal for some reason. I didn’t even know anybody saw it. It wasn’t something that was out of the normal for us. Kevin comes up and gets me. I get Delana. DeLana gets both of us. We’re always just messing around, I guess. Not necessarily at the same time. I drove for them for a long time and have a great friendship with them. It always makes her jump, so it’s just something we’ve always joked around about and talked about it being good luck. It’s normally good luck for us. I’m just glad picking my nose wasn’t what is good luck.

“Anything I do gets that attention, which still amazes me. So I guess it’s a compliment.”

Q: Is it a compliment that probably nobody else would get away with it but you?

Stewart: “It’s good for me at least. It’s not really that big a deal. Why even this whole group (of reporters) is talking about it is amazing to me, because you guys are kind of the upper echelon, and we’re talking about something that isn’t a big deal.”

Q: But it’s been on national news programs.

Stewart: “See, you guys should be looking for the next great bigger, better thing than that. So basically you’re saying you guys aren’t as good as you think you are, and you’re following suit with what everybody else is doing.”

Q: The stories about it got more traffic than Brad Keselowski winning the race, though.

Stewart: “That’s pathetic. I think it’s pathetic because there is so much more stuff going on in our sport than that.”

Q: Have you ever gotten smacked in return?

Stewart: “No. I never grab anybody that I thought would smack me. I’m not going to grab somebody that I would offend, because they know that I’m not doing it in any more than a playful way.”

Q: Do you hear sponsors say you’re different than the public image they’d expected?

Stewart: “A lot of times they’re surprised there is more to us than just being a race car driver. I don’t have a business degree, and I’m not the best guy on the business side, but I do understand it a little bit. I’m not sitting there with my hand out saying write us a check. I understand there’s a goal they’re wanting, too, and we all sit down to figure out how to accomplish that together. It’s more than just me being a driver and somebody they see on TV.”

LAS VEGAS, Dec. 1, 2011

Stewart meets the media on the eve of his being crowned champion after beating Carl Edwards in his last race with crew chief Darian Grubb, who was fired.

Q: Have you been impressed with how Carl Edwards handled finishing second to you?

Stewart: “Yes, absolutely. He handled it with a lot more class than I would have been able. That’s just differences in personality. It doesn’t mean that I would have been a poor loser, but I think he handled as good if not better than anyone else would have handled that.”

Q: Darian said it’s been hard to look at you this week; are you feeling the same way?

Stewart:  “Well, when we started this organization together, we worked hand in hand to build it together. Like I told him, if it wasn’t emotional, it means it didn’t mean anything. It shows what it means to both of us.

Q: Do you have an understanding of why you appeal to fans?

Stewart: It’s my devilish good looks, there’s no doubt. It’s the only good trait that I have.

Q: Why do you think people are calling you ‘The People’s Champion,’ though?

Stewart: “I’m pretty normal. And I think everyone knows that. I’m a jeans, tennis shoes, T-shirt guy. I always have been. I always will be. I can just about listen to anybody’s story and find something that is a parallel to it in my life on my way up to getting to this level. I didn’t just start here. I worked jobs I didn’t like. I had to do a lot of things and sacrifice a lot of things to get where we are. I can relate to people who have to sacrifice every day to do what they do.”

Q: What was it like to receive a call from President Obama on Air Force One?

Stewart: “I was most concerned about not being able to understand him on the phone, but they’ve got really good cell service up there, so … it was a huge honor obviously. To hear him talk about the race, and he was paying attention to the race, and that really means a lot to the sport and for NASCAR. It’s cool to know that our Commander in Chief is engaged in what we’re doing.”

Q: A pinch-me moment?

Stewart: “Yeah, I kept holding my breath trying to make sure I wasn’t going to miss anything, and I about passed out by the end of the conversation. It was a short conversation, but it meant a lot.”

CHARLOTTE, N.C., MAY 12, 2011

In an appearance at Levine Children’s Hospital with Rick Hendrick, Stewart donates $50,000 in the team owner’s name.

“A lot of times I feel embarrassed with myself. Because you realize how hard these kids are fighting to get healthy. We’re all leaving here happy and healthy. We all have jobs. We don’t have a care in the world compared to these children and families. That’s very, very hard. It’s very humbling. I told Rick it’s amazing the comparison to listening to the staff of doctors talking about trying to find the best person, and it’s no different than what Rick does with his race teams. He tries to find the best personnel, best equipment, best resources. It’s just amazing how you wouldn’t think a children’s hospital and race team have similarities, but there are a lot more than your realize.”

Q: You and Rick seem to have an easygoing rapport.

Stewart: “That just shows you what kind of relationship we’ve got with each other. There’s hardly a conversation we have where we’re not laughing and joking about something. I don’t know if he’s that way with all of his drivers, but I know that’s something I appreciate with him. He’ll call and just give me grief. Doesn’t even have anything he wants to talk about. He’ll just call and give me a bunch of crap. It just makes you laugh. It’s fun.”

Q: Is it more like brothers or a father-son relationship?

Stewart: “A lot of the conversations are like a father-son-type conversation. My father and I give each other a hard time like Rick and I do. For what we do together and how business-oriented our relationship is, we find a way to make it fun and talk about stuff outside racing, too.”


After announcing the extension of his deal with Mobil 1, Stewart held a session for a small group of reporters, and the discussion focused on contracts and  sponsorship.

Q: Is it as competitive for sponsorship off track as sponsors on the track?

Stewart: “I don’t know if this is customary, but I realized how competitive it was when we get letters from our sponsors that were sending responses they’d sent to Roush after Roush had solicited them and said we can do a better job. Why are they soliciting our sponsors? That was a pretty good lesson. We’ve got contracts, and we’ve got Roush trying to take our sponsors away. That was a good lesson this is as competitive off the track as it is on.”

Q: Do you worry about money and sponsorship?

Stewart: “Who doesn’t? The hard part is every day when one of these guys walks by, I’m responsible for that guy, his family, his children. Yeah, you think about it. If I screwed up and don’t do my part to secure the finances, it’s going to affect those guys. It’s hard to imagine.”

Q: Can you cut a better deal because you can be flexible on salary as a driver-owner?

Stewart: “I don’t know which side is cutting a better deal is the hard part. Don’t know if I get a better deal as a driver or car owner. That’s part of the equation. I’ve heard a lot of owners talk about it in the owner meeting. I’m sitting with my owner hat on, listening to owners talk about it and you think about it from that other side, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, how many guys are going to take a pay cut?’ There are guys who have. That’s a good thing. There’s guys who didn’t have to but did. Instead of thinking backward, I’m thinking forward saying we’ve got to keep beating the streets and get these spots sold.”

Q: As an owner, how do you manage also paying yourself as a driver?

Stewart: “It’s based off my salary and percentage at Gibbs vs. what we knew other drivers were getting. I’m responsible for making our finances work. Our salary and percentage is right in line with guys who won races and championship. I didn’t pay myself a huge salary and percentage and put the company at risk. We did the original owner’s agreement and knew we’d sign two separate agreements as a driver and owner. We dealt with those independently. We didn’t go into the driver side trying to gouge anybody. I wasn’t unhappy with what I was making at Gibbs. My salary was less than guys that hadn’t even won a championship. We adjusted it and didn’t go crazy but moved it fair with the market. But we’re not making Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. money, but we’re in line with a lot of the top 10 guys.”

Q: Now that you have two full seasons under your belt, where do you see yourself as a driver and owner in five year?

Stewart:  Five years ago, I never saw myself as a team owner, let alone be two years into it. Who knows how long I’ll do this? A lot of it is ‘Are you competitive? Are you healthy?’ I don’t feel I’m off my game any. Whatever day I decide to stop driving, I want to be part of this organization. No disrespect, but there are owners in this sports that are starting to get up there in age. I have a partner who I believe wants to be here a long time, and I want to be here a long time. I love the sport. I like what I do. I just don’t necessarily like all the things that go along with it all the time.”


Stewart explains how he played consigliere to Danica Patrick, who was weighing a switch to stock cars.

Q: Danica Patrick said she has consulted you about NASCAR; what are your impressions of her interest?

Stewart: “We’re just trying to help her. She’s really come to us for a lot of advice about what to do. A lot of that is because she understands that I went through the same things that she went through. We’ve known each other through different personal service deals that we both had. Some shows we’ve done together when we’ve had time to sit and talk. We just seem to get along really well. I know she’s talked to a lot of teams in NASCAR right now, and she’s trying to figure out what it is she wants to do and how to go about it. So we got her down there and tried to give her an example of where her seats needed to be and went through that process and just spent time while she was in town answering her questions. Not so much us asking questions as she’s asking our opinion. I’m glad I can be here to have somebody for her to bounce ideas off. I think it’d be awesome for our sport if she could come over here and be successful.”

Q: Is she serious about this?

Stewart: “I know that she’s serious about it. She looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘This is what I want to do. It looks like fun. It looks like a lot of work, but it looks like fun.’ I don’t think she has some misguided idea that it’s going to be easy. She wants to do it the right way. She has intentions of doing everything right. She asked a lot of very smart questions in the discussion about it. You can tell she wants to do it the right way. She understands how hard everybody has worked to get to this level, and she doesn’t want to be one of those people who comes in and gets stuff handed to her. She wants to earn her way and work her way up like everyone else has.”

Q: Should NASCAR look at adding push to pass like in IndyCar?

Stewart: “God I hope not. If I want to play a video game, I’ll go back to the bus.”


At the news conference to announce his new co-ownership with Gene Haas, Stewart naturally took several questions about the team he was leaving at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Q: Could you have bought into Joe Gibbs Racing instead?
Stewart: “It wasn’t offered. JGR is a family business. I respect that. You can’t ask a family business to give away part of the team. That didn’t turn me away from Joe Gibbs Racing. This was just a unique offer.”

Q: How much does it weigh on your decision to make this part of your legacy?

Stewart: “I think as time has gone on and you get older, you start realizing the importance of history and what values are important. The thought of being another Richard Childress or Richard Petty or someone who has driven in this sport, and now their legacy is bigger than when they were drivers. That opportunity was very important to me. I look back and I know I keep mentioning open wheel teams, but that’s where the foundation started. I look at (Tony Stewart Racing) this past week leading all three national divisions, and that’s the first time in USAC history one team has led all three national divisions, and I thought that was something that’s never been done. To be part of that and have my name on that organization is something I’m proud of, and to have opportunities to put my name in the record books as a car owner is something I’m excited about.”

Q: Why can you be successful as a team owner?

Stewart: “I can’t guarantee I’m (going to succeed), but if we don’t, we’re going to go down swinging. I like challenges. If I didn’t like challenges, I wouldn’t be part of three racetracks and have four races teams. There are no guarantees it’ll be successful. After evaluating the potential, I wouldn’t be involved if it didn’t have potential to be great. There are no guarantees. We’ll do everything to make it successful.”

Q: Would you consider owning an IndyCar team?

Stewart: “First, you’re smoking crack today. No, I’ve been down that road. I guess I’ve learned never say never. Because eight years ago, I said I’d never be an owner in NASCAR, and here I am today announcing I am. You never know. You look at Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing who are involved in multiple series. Is it out of the question? No, it’s never out of the question. We evaluate where we’re at as time goes on and do we have too much on our plate, and do we want more? We’ll see down the road what we want to do next. We might buy a Little League baseball team.”

Q: Are you seeking advice from other driver-owners?

Stewart: “I’ve had conversations with Robby Gordon, who really is the last owner-driver in the series right now. The moral of the story is he said you’re going to enjoy this. If Robby had said this was going to be a total disaster and you’ll regret it, I’d have thought different, but that’s far from what he said.”

Q: How emotional is it to leave crew chief Greg Zipadelli after this season?

Stewart: “That’s been the single hardest part about this. It’s like a marriage. He’s been there professionally and like a big brother on the personal side. For the last 10 years, I’ve had Greg’s leadership and security blanket and peace of mind that Zippy is in charge of his. He knows me better than 99 percent of girlfriends in my life. I’m not going to call it a divorce  because it’s not like that. Our relationship is as good as it’s ever been. Yesterday was bittersweet to sit down with our guys and let them know that this combination that won over 30 races and two championships would part ways. The important thing is not only Zippy but the entire organization parted on great terms.”

Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’

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One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.

A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.

While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.

“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”

Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.

The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.

Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.

It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.

“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”

Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.

Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”

Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”

Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”

Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.

“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”


Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.

Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:

Most positions gained

18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)

17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)

16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)

12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)

9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)

8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)

7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)

6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)

Most positions lost

23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)

20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)

15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)

12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)

12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)

10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)

9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)

6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)


Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.

This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.

Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.

Winners and losers at Circuit of the Americas


A look at winners and losers from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas:


Tyler Reddick — Reddick needed patience and perseverance to stay in front through three overtimes to win Sunday’s race. Considering the supreme strength of his Toyota and his nearly flawless performance, losing first place in that calamity near the end would have been heartbreaking. Instead, he gives Toyota its first win of the year.

Kyle Busch — Busch never led, but he pushed through the field in the final stage, worked his way through the restarts and finished second.

William Byron — Byron appeared to have the only answer to Reddick’s power. He led 28 laps but was shuffled to fifth at the finish.

Todd Gilliland — Gilliland was in the top-15 mix through the three overtimes and worked his way to a 10th-place finish, the third of his Cup career.

Jenson Button — Former F1 champion finished 18th in his Cup debut, highest among the road course ringers. He told his team after the race on the radio that Cup drivers “are on it every second of the race” and also said that the race was a “roller coaster … a whole F1 season in one race.”


AJ Allmendinger — Always expected to be a threat at road courses, Allmendinger left the race after 60 laps with damage from an accident, finishing 34th.

Brad Keselowski — Spins limited Keselowski’s effectiveness Sunday, and he parked after 56 laps with a driveshaft issue, finishing 35th and dropping four spots in the points standings.

Bubba Wallace — The year has not started well for Wallace, who finished 37th Sunday and now has four finishes of 20th or worse in six races. He fell three spots in points.

What drivers said at Circuit of the Americas


What drivers had to say during and after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas:

Tyler Reddick — Winner: “It means the world. This whole 23XI team has been working so hard all winter long to make the road course program better. Was extremely motivated to come in here and prove that performance, too. Just so proud of this Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD. Toyota, everybody, all the resources they’ve been putting into this to help turn around the road course program means a lot. I’m out of gas. But I feel a little bit better with Monster Energy. I really had to dial it up there at the end to get an advantage. I was making mistakes on every single restart. I was able to make it a little better there in the end. … Obviously, there was a lot of cautions at the end. I mean, the way that things kind of have progressed, the front and rear bumpers of this car are really resilient. You can really hit someone pretty hard without knocking the nose of your car out. The rear bumpers are really tough, too. We saw that at the Clash, people being able to lean on each other front to rear. It kind of brings that to light at the end of these races. But seriously, though, you look at Turn 1 here, Turn 1 at Indy road course, they’re very inviting corners with a lot of room. It’s just a product of restarts and the nature of NASCAR racing and how aggressive all the drivers are. Someone’s going to be on the short end.”

MORE: COTA Cup results, driver points

Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “I don’t know if we could have (beaten Tyler Reddick). Even if we were on equal tires, when we tested here, they were lights out. Had us beat on the frontside of the runs. We needed longer runs. Even today we didn’t have great long-run speed. We had great middle-run speed. Overall, for as much effort and everything that we’ve put into coming here and focusing on this place, all the testing and everything we’ve been able to do during the off-season, come out here with a really good finish. Tyler obviously is a really good road racer. He proved it driving this car here last year. I was able to get in it and run right back to him. I’ve been trying to emulate the things he did in order to make this car fast last year, but not quite all the way there. They had a whale of a car.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 3rd: “It probably wouldn’t have been that bad if my interior stuff worked. When this Coolshirt doesn’t work, it just heat soaks, kind of cooks you. I’m hot. It stopped working pretty early. I don’t have issues with stuff from Hendrick Motorsports very often. Shout-out to all the guys back at the shop. This road crew, I’m not the greatest road course racer, so to come here and run top five again means a lot. It was a hot day. Proud of the 45 (Tyler Reddick). A heck of a road course racer. Fastest car definitely won today. Wish our Ally Camaro was a couple spots better. All in all, a good day for us. (On post-race talk with Daniel Suarez): He just thought I drove in and tried to drive through him. I had the corner made. Only reason I was inside of the 99 was to protect from the 1. Then the 1 just hammered me in the corner, dumped me, then I ran into the 99, kind of cleaned him out. Daniel and I, we’ve been teammates in the past, raced together a long time. I respect the hell out of him. I’m sure he’s still not super happy. Just tried to explain that I wouldn’t race him like that, that I was shoved in there. You see that a lot at these road courses. Indy last year, Harvick was super mad at me and crashed me. Then he watched the video, and he was like, ‘Man, I crashed the wrong guy.’ Sometimes just it’s a chain reaction. Fortunately, it worked out for us, ended up with a top five.”

Ross Chastain — Finished 4th: “When we got spun, I think we restarted down at Niece Equipment south of town. To come back to a top five was a top effort for our Worldwide Express team. I thought we were a top-five car all day. Thought the 45 (Tyler Reddick) had us covered. There was a line of Chevys second through sixth. It was about positioning each other while we were saving fuel, then racing each other, whoever was in front was going to be pretty good. Another top five here. I love this place. I love road course racing. But the fight to get better never stops. I know there’s things I can be doing better.”

William Byron — Finished 5th: “It was all right. I probably could have done better on those restarts. I gotta look. I just kept getting pushed wide, and it seemed like the last one didn’t happen for some reason. I just gave up too much track position. It was really my only option. Good to get a top five. We had a good racecar; I think a top-two racecar really, with the 45. He was a lot better than everybody, but I thought we were a close second. It was really fun. Tyler is great, and they were great all weekend. Tyler’s been great on the road courses. We made it a battle for sure every time with crossovers, out-braking each other — that was a lot of fun. I hate that it kind of got down to restarts there at the end. I got shoved off one time in second. We needed a top five and probably could have done some things different.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 6th: “Great to lay some laps. Good to be able to show some speed in our Discount Tire Ford Mustang. It’s one of those days where you win or lose as a team. There were quite a few miscues on pit road that probably kept us from having the track position. Then, it’s a fight. Fair recovery to finish sixth. A lot of things had to go our way for those restarts. But for a long, hot day, we never gave up.”

Chris Buescher — Finisned 8th: “It was our first bumper car race of the year. Our Fifth Third Ford Mustang ended up pretty solid there toward the end. We got a solid top 10 out of it. That’s a big testament to this team and its ‘never give up’ attitude. I started into the 30s for the day, 32nd. I had to really power through, and we had some issues there that probably came from getting run into… backward a couple times. But I’m proud of everybody. That was a good finish for a really hard-fought day.”

Ty Gibbs — Finished 9th: “I’m sure it was entertaining. We had a really great first half of the race and then we had an issue with our lugnut – lost a lot of time and I got two penalties. I just have to minimize mistakes. We will take it.”

Todd Gilliland — Finished 10th: “The restarts were really good for us, even in the very beginning of the race. We were able to fire off and gain a lot of spots right off the bat. So, after that, we had fallen off a little worse than everyone else, but our fire-off speed was probably top-five to 10 every time. It was really nice to have some speed there, and to be really aggressive on the restarts. Most of them worked out really well. I got spun once, but we were able to rebound up to 10th or so. That’s good —  15th and 10th the last two races. That’s something to build on.”

Jenson Button — Finished 18th:  “It was an emotional rollercoaster. First, it was terrible. I mean, I must’ve been last by the end of it. And I was just like, ‘Everyone: Go. I just need to drive and find a rhythm.’ I’ve never gone through a corner too wide so often. And trying to place my car in the right place — I just got it wrong every time. Normally, if you’re a little bit slow through a corner, nobody tries to overtake you from the outside. Because they’re not going to make it all the way on the next one. But here they do, because they get a wheel inside for the next one, and if you turn in, you turn around. The first stint was really bad — it was embarrassing for me. I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tires and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’ I got that. The pace was good, consistency was good. I was really happy — and passed a few cars, which was nice. We got a little bit unlucky with the safety car because it was just two laps before our window. Pitted, then the next stint was mayhem. We also made a couple of changes that just didn’t work. Big oversteer —  went from the car feeling great to really difficult to drive. I also had a massive whack from Kimi (Räikkönen), and it fell off after that. The car wasn’t quite right. Every time I turned in, the rear tires would chatter, then immediately to oversteer. It was really difficult, but toward the end, we made some good calls stopping and putting on fresh tires. I enjoyed the last three restarts — got good placement and good overtaking moves from the outside. Finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion. It was so hot, I don’t have a fan in my seat which really didn’t help me too much. It was so hot, I thought I was going to faint in the car. So, I stopped twice for a minute. They put ice on me, gave me loads of water, and I went back out. I was so close to getting out of the car because I thought I was going to faint. I must’ve drunk eight or nine bottles of water during the race. The team kept me calm, and it’s the reason why we got a good result in the end. So, I was happy.”

Noah Gragson — Finished 20th: “Had a solid day in our Black Rifle Coffee Camaro. We ran inside the top 10 and top 15 for a large part of the day with good speed. We kept working on the car. Luke Lambert and the rest of the guys called a great strategy. The pit crew did an awesome job. We put ourselves in position during the green-white-checkers to be in the top 10. I ended up getting spun and rallied back. We never quit.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 21st: “Certainly, wasn’t the day we were looking for. Starting in the back we managed to gain quite a few spots early but got hit really hard in the left rear and had to make repairs. Glad we had a shot late for a decent finish, but those overtime restarts are crazy and sometimes it works out and other times it doesn’t.”

Erik Jones — Finished 23rd: “Frustrating day here in at COTA. I felt like we had a pretty fast Allegiant Chevy, but it seemed like we kept getting hit. There were a couple times there on restarts that we just flat got ran over. Wrong place wrong time for sure, and it stinks that we weren’t really able to have anything to show for the speed we had. I’m thankful that we were able to show as much promise as we did early on with a good run in qualifying, and I can tell we are moving in the right direction at Legacy Motor Club. On to Richmond.”

Jordan Taylor — Finished 24th: “Yeah, it was definitely wild. I wouldn’t say I survived; I feel like I’m beat up pretty much. Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side. So, yeah, it was pretty much just survival. The guys knew I’d be a little bit more hesitant, so they would take advantage of it. At the end, I got more aggressive and made our way almost back to the top 10. On the last restart, I don’t know who went down on the inside, but they were never going to make the corner and used us to stop themselves. I’d say it was a disappointing day. I made a couple big mistakes early on that probably put us back there, but the No. 9 UniFirst Chevy was fast. I need to thank UniFirst and Hendrick Motorsports for giving me the opportunity. We had good pace, but we just got shuffled back every restart. Tough day.”

Joey Logano — Finished 28th: “We had a decent day going with the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang. Paul (Wolfe) made some good strategy calls to gain track position. Felt like we had a top-10 car, but depending on how the end played out maybe a top-five. The restarts at the end normally play out that way and we ended up spun out. We’ll move on to Richmond.”

Kimi Raikkonen — Finished 29th: “I think it wasn’t too bad. We got unlucky with the incidents that happened. It was one of those things, unfortunately. Then there were no tires left. They kept coming, getting more restarts and more restarts, so I think after the spin I had, the tires were just done. It’s a shame because when we were there, but then we restart, and just wrong place, wrong time. It was a case of trying to stay out of the issues in the first corner and every time. It looked like you’d be very good, then three corners later, somebody’s going the wrong direction. There’s a bit of mess and luck involved.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 33rd: “We had a really solid run going in our Get Bioethanol Chevrolet today, so it’s disappointing that we ended up in the garage early. We didn’t qualify where we needed to, but we worked our way into the top 15 by the end of Stage 1 and earned stage points at the end of Stage 2. The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart, and everyone just pile-drove into each other. I had nowhere to go. I don’t know if it would have worked out better for us if we chose the bottom or not. I hate it for all of the guys on this RCR team. We had a lot of good things going today, but nothing to show for it. There’s still a lot of racing to go. We’ll regroup and head to Richmond Raceway.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 38th: “What a disappointing finish. Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start yesterday and qualified poorly. We all know what happens when you start in the back and, unfortunately, we were caught up in that. Just a wild and crazy first lap that was taking place. I thought I had the wreck missed, but I just saw a flash of red out of nowhere. I guess there was more going on the outside of the No. 6 car (Brad Keselowski) as it was spinning, and I saw him and just got collected.”

COTA Cup Series results: Tyler Reddick wins


Wrecks led to a series of restarts over the closing miles in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas, but Tyler Reddick, who had the day’s fastest car, held on through all of the calamity to score his first win of the year.

Kyle Busch was second, Alex Bowman third and Ross Chastain fourth. William Byron, who challenged Reddick for supremacy most of the day, was fifth.

MORE: COTA Cup results

MORE: COTA Cup driver points

MORE: What drivers said at COTA

Reddick led 41 laps on the way to his fourth Cup win (three on road courses).

Jenson Button finished 18th in his first Cup race, and Jordan Taylor was 24th in his Cup debut.