Stewart Ready For The Next Chapter

A relaxed Tony Stewart addresses the media. [Joe Jennings Photo]

A relaxed Tony Stewart addresses the media. [Joe Jennings Photo]

By Joe Jennings

Homestead, Fla. – NASCAR star Tony Stewart concludes his Sprint Cup Series career on Sunday with the running of Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race marks his 618th start over a span of 17 years. During that period of time, the star driver has earned 49 victories and three Sprint Cup championships among his most notable accomplishments.

For his finale Sprint Cup race, he’s driving his familiar No.14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet but with a special paint scheme carrying the signatures of all the Stewart-Haas Racing employees, which made it special for the popular driver.

Tony Stewart powers through Turn 4 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Tony Stewart powers through Turn 4 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. [Joe Jennings Photo]

During a press conference this weekend, Stewart discussed the highlights of his career, including the good and bad elements. Throughout the conference, he reminded the assembled media that he’s not going away, only retiring from Sprint Cup driving.

Asked about what people are saying about his legacy, the outspoken driver said, “Normally legacy means you’re old; you’ve been around for a long time. It’s been a fun 18 years. Not every part of it has been fun and I’ve made your guys life hell at certain points during my 18 year run here, but the thing that I think at the end of it I’ve always said what was on my mind whether it was popular or unpopular. I always fought for what I believed in, whether it was safety for other drivers or something etiquette that was going on the race track or whatever; I always fought for what I believed in. At the end of the day I can sleep alright knowing that is why I did it. It wasn’t because I was trying to be a jerk or something like that I just always spoke my mind and fought for what I believed in.”

Seemingly relaxed and comfortable with his decision, Stewart stated clearly, “The great thing is I’m not really going anywhere. In the big picture what is changing really isn’t in my big picture it’s not really a huge change, because 90 percent of the stuff that I’m already doing I’m still going to continue to do. It’s a big part obviously in the racing world, it’s a big change, but for me it’s not going to be that big of a change.”

A year ago at this race, Jeff Gordon officially retired, only to be called back to action as a replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr., which taught Stewart a lesson. “This is the last one,” he said. “I learned my lesson from Jeff (Gordon). Jeff tried to do somebody a favor this year and got roped into running half the season (laughs). Thanks Jeff for teaching me a lesson before I got roped into it. So, no, I’m not planning on that at all. We are going to be busy. In all honesty and I don’t have a schedule set next year, but I just know the things that I’m planning, my schedule next year is going to be much busier than it already is this year. There is just not going to be room for it.”

Known to dislike being at a track for morning activities, Stewart eagerly awaits the ability to manage his time, saying, “The thing that I’m not going to miss is 9:00 a.m. practices on Saturday morning, so I never have to get up for a 9:00 a.m. practice ever again. The thing I’m looking forward to the most is having a more flexible schedule. There will be weekends where I’m at the track all three days and there might be weekends that I’m at the track just on Sunday.”

His two biggest accomplishments in NASCAR are winning his first Brickyard 400 and the 2011 victory here when he wrestled the championship from Carl Edwards. “Those two I would say have to stand out more than anything.”

Interestingly, Edwards contributed to Stewart’s helmet collection by giving him the helmet he wore in finishing runner-up in that 2011 season finale.

Missing from his career accomplishments, Stewart noted, “I would be lying if I said I was disappointed that I didn’t win a Daytona 500, a Southern 500 and most of all an Indy 500. But, I look at it and look at where I was when I was 15 years old, and 18 years old, I never even thought I would get a chance to race those races let alone in all three of them have opportunities to win the race. In a perfect world, yes, I would have loved to be able to cross those three off the list. But at the same time, I look at the big picture and it was pretty damn cool to just have the opportunity to go race those races.”

Looking ahead, Stewart is looking forward to the upcoming Chili Bowl race, only for administration and track preparation, and to the annual NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Eldora Speedway.

And, of course, Sunday’s final laps here at Homestead and the future that lies ahead..

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