CONCORD, N.C. — Amid a light mist that hung in the air as the final championship pictures were being taken Saturday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, Tony Stewart looked around at his assembled crew, clapped driver Donny Schatz on the shoulder and grinned from ear to ear.
“Man, it’s fun to do this part every year,” Stewart said as the crew reveled in what they had accomplished for a fourth straight season.
Schatz officially clinched his ninth World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series title, and seventh with Tony Stewart Racing, simply by rolling out for hot laps on Friday night during the Textron Off-Road World Finals. He went on to score his 20th win of the season during the feature later that night, and nearly added another during the finale before a last-lap pass by David Gravel nixed that victory lane celebration.
But Schatz got the big prize, hoisting the familiar Outlaws’ championship on the infield stage at the end of the weekend.
It was a moment that has become commonplace on the tour, but it was a little bit different this time around.
After all, it was the first time that Stewart himself had been able to race in the World Finals on the same weekend that his hand-picked driver-turned-superstar wrapped up yet another accolade for the team.
That, Stewart admitted, made things a little bit more special.
“It’s obviously a big weekend for the team, but it was pretty cool to be able to compete with him as he locked up the title again,” Stewart told Race Chaser Online. “It was nice to be able to come into the weekend with (the championship) already locked up … to where all he had to do is go onto the track for practice. It’s fun to be able to come here and race too … I haven’t been here in a race car for a while, but I enjoy racing here.”
Stewart admitted that running his own No. 14 Rush Truck Centers J&J at Charlotte was never in the plans, but that after a rough summer, he called the audible to come race in an effort to strengthen the entire organization going into the offseason.
“I didn’t plan on coming here to race; I was just going to be supportive with the team,” said Stewart. “But the way our summer has been with our car … it’s the polar opposite from Donny’s. I don’t really know which one is the yin and which one’s the yang … but that what the (No.) 15 and 14 cars are. We figured we needed to come and race just to get our stuff better, and I feel like we found a few things that will help with that.”
Transferring through his heat and finishing a respectable 21st in a stout 30-car field on Friday, before winning the C-Main and running up to 13th in the Last Chance Showdown during Saturday’s finale, was evidence of that slow but solid progression.
“It was a good weekend,” Stewart admitted. “I’m a racer; I’m never truly happy when I can’t win … but we’re making strides with the car and the team, so I’m pleased with that.”
Continued on the next page…