CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Column by Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Patrick Smith/Getty Images photo —
Tony Stewart’s announcement Wednesday that he would retire from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition following the 2016 season was not a huge surprise to me.
He hasn’t been the same in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car since he broke his leg in the sprint car accident.
It has been hard to watch at times, because Tony has always been a driver that your used to seeing chasing wins and doing amazing things, like he did at Homestead in 2011 when he went to the back of the field twice and still won the race and beat Carl Edwards on a tiebreaker (most wins) to capture his third series title, or in 1995 when he became the first driver to complete USAC’s Triple Crown (claiming titles in the USAC National Midget Series, USAC Silver Crown Championship and USAC National Sprint Car Series) in a single calendar year in 1995 — the first driver to ever accomplish that feat.
I am actually happy that he seems to have been able to make this decision on his own, and that he will not retire from driving altogether. He made it clear he’s not done racing. He’s just done racing in Sprint Cup.
In other words, “Smoke” still has some fire left in him to get behind the wheel and chase checkered flags. That could be fantastic news for a lot of short-track race promoters and track owners, because he’s going to likely want to check off some of his “bucket list” racing-related items.
I got thinking about some of the races I’d like to see Tony in starting in 2017. I’m sure all of you will have your own choices, but here are five I came up with that I’d like to see him tackle right off the top in his first year of “retirement.”
Oswego Speedway’s Budweiser International Classic
How amazing would it be to see him run a winged Supermodified in the ISMA Tour Classic on Saturday night at Oswego and then strap into an unwinged “methanol monster” for Sunday’s 200-lap version of Indianapolis on a short track?
He’s run a race or two in supers before, but never at Oswego. I’d love to see that happen.
The Little 500
This is sprint car racing’s equivalent of the Oswego Classic.
The non-winged beasts start three-wide (Indy style) on the quarter-mile bullring at Anderson Speedway in Indiana, and somehow make it through turn one safely. I’ve yet to see anything quite like this race. It’s insane! It’s also a true endurance test, but Tony’s never shied away from a challenge!
The Rumble in Ft. Wayne
I know he’s run and won this event nine times already, but Tony hasn’t competed in this particular crown jewel race for a few years now.
He and his Munchkin midget belong in the starting lineup in this indoor midget race that screams “fun and excitement” not far from his home in Columbus, Ind.
The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals
Oh yes, please.
Add “Smoke” to a lineup that already includes Rico Abreu, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Kevin and Sammy Swindell and stars from all disciplines of motorsports.
I know he’s taken to helping prep the track (along with event promoter Emmett Hahn) in recent years, but he can consult from the comfortable confines of his firesuit and have some fun with his friends on the track at the same time!
Oh, by the way, he’s a two-time winner of the event — he claimed the Golden Driller ahead of his first Sprint Cup championship season in January of 2002 and repeated the feat in 2007.
The QRC Speed Sport Challenge pres. by JGRMX
By now I’d hope that most of you have heard of this race, one of the biggest of the year for the deceptively challenging mini outlaw cars held at Millbridge Speedway just outside Charlotte.
Larson and Abreu are two stars who got their start racing these cars, which are called “karts” but shouldn’t be. They’re far faster than any type of go-kart that exists on the face of the planet, with the same horsepower to weight ratio as a 410 sprint car.
There would be nothing like watching him on that tight little track racing against Abreu, Tanner Thorson, J.J. Yeley, Larson, Paul McMahan and a whole bunch of young and hungry “future Tonys” in this nationally televised race.
Something tells me the inner Tony would just love that horsepower to weight ratio mentioned above, too.
My guess is, when he crawls out from behind the wheel of his Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy for the last time at Homestead next year, he’ll probably breathe a huge sigh of relief. After that, he will be free to spend some weekends away doing what he wants to do, whether it’s racing a short-track race or just relaxing on a boat.
I could write of Tony’s mass of emotional contradictions and his past fiery episodes, but honestly, I don’t much care about any of that right now. That’s another topic for another day.
The only thing on my mind now is that I hope that Tony, now that the announcement has been made and the weight of making the decision is off his shoulders, can go out and win some races between now and the end of next year and go out on a high note.
His talent is limitless and he’s a ton of fun to watch no matter what he’s driving. He was a huge A.J. Foyt fan, and a spitting image of “Super Tex” in almost every way. He also admitted in the press conference Wednesday that, over the course of his career, he’s followed a strikingly similar road to that of his racing hero.
There aren’t many Tony Stewarts coming up through the ranks who can wheel anything you put in front of them the way he has. He’s won championships in stock cars, open-wheel cars and even claimed the final International Race of Champions (IROC) title in 2006. He’s won on dirt and pavement, on tracks from tiny to Talladega.
Oh, and he’s got two NASCAR Sprint Cups and 21 (likely soon to be 22) open-wheel championships as an owner as well, with the most recent being Donny Schatz’s 2014 World Of Outlaws Sprint Car Series title — a title Donny is on his way to defending this season, having already won 30 races!
I’m just happy that when he’s done being a national racer, those of us whose passion still also burns for the “Saturday night short tracks” might be able to once again watch Smoke work his magic and have some fun at some of our favorite grassroots races for a while.
Because if you know Tony? He’ll surely make it exciting to watch.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Tom Baker is the Owner and Senior Editor of Race Chaser Online, as well as creator of the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show — airing Thursdays at 7 p.m. Eastern on the Performance Motorsports Network.
With 27 years of motorsports media, marketing and managerial experience, Baker serves as coach and mentor for several next generation racers, as well as Race Chaser’s passionate lineup of rising motorsports journalists.
Email Tom at: AskCoachTom@carolina.rr.com
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