Let's do some word-association. Say the first thing that comes to mind when I say what I'm about to say. Ready?
What came to mind? Car owner? Racer? Aggressive? Fierce? These can all aptly describe the Tony Stewart of 2009, the aggressive, fierce car owner.
This is light-years removed from the Tony Stewart of 2002, whose frequent outbursts of fist-fighting, spinning cars on pit road (that earned him a probation), and throwing cameras out of reporters hands led NASCAR to mandate an anger management course for him (he proudly displayed his certificate of completion at the awards banquet that year). Once, after a bad call by NASCAR officials at Daytona, Joe Gibbs had to physically restrain Tony from assaulting the official Gibbs was talking with.
Fast-forward to 2009. After wrecking Kyle Busch to win the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Tony says in victory lane, "I'm sorry if I did anything wrong."
My jaw dropped. This was not the same Tony Stewart I watched growing up.
Everyone knew that car-owner Tony Stewart would be different from anger-mismanagement Tony Stewart, but I don't think we anticipated this extent. So, what's different?
Now, Tony knows what it's like to be an owner, and to sink millions of dollars into a fleet of racecars (cliché time: What's the best way to make a small fortune in racing? Start with a big one). No longer does he use his own car for retaliation purposes (I mean, c'mon, would you use your own car for retaliation purposes?). We've noticed him apologize for wrecking other cars this year, but when someone wrecks his cars, we see the same old aggressive Tony.
I mean, have you ever heard the guy criticize Goodyear? The 2002 Tony Stewart would blame Goodyear for every misfortune, and they once threatened to remove their logos from his car. When the 2009 Tony Stewart critizes Goodyear, it sounds just as fierce, but for legitimate gripes, like when tire problems wrecked 3 of his cars in Daytona Speedweeks, so much that teammate Ryan Newman used his car, his backup car, and Tony's backup car.
In seven years since his anger management problems, we've seen Tony Stewart grow into the ideal NASCAR champion and self-made man, whose use of Old Spice helped him overcome a fear of escalators and garnered him hot Russian girls and chicken legs.
So, what about Kyle Busch, NASCAR's newest hated bad boy?
Kyle is notoriously rude to teams and media when he's had a bad day, which includes even second-place finishes. Unless he's leading every lap and winning, Kyle commonly complains about how much his team "sucks."
Not exactly a good way to rouse the troops now, Kyle. But, all this because he just simply hates losing so darn much.
I mean, who doesn't hate losing? In each race, there is one and only one winner, and 42 others who didn't win, not one of whom didn't want to win. Few people would tell fans, "Well, you know, I suppose this losing thing's alright."
But look, when you're one of the 42 who didn't win, you're still among good company.
I admit that I right this article as Kyle has begin to tone down somewhat. NASCAR legends of old and new have had discussions with him about his antics, and Larry McReynolds has reminded him that, even when he finishes second, there are still Kyle Busch fans that want to hear what he has to say.
Tony Stewart realized this. He knows he has a job to do, and the world doesn't stop if he doesn't win. Go for it on the track, spill your guts on the floorboards trying to get to that lead car because that's what you're paid the big bucks to do. But, when the race is over, it's over, and no amount of, "I'm so awesome and everyone else sucks, and if my crew was better and if the winner realized that this is the Kyle Busch Show, I would be in victory lane right now" is going to change where you finished.
Doing this won't void the sport of personality, just show the world that Kyle is a champion and truly one of the most talented drivers the sport has ever seen, rather than just a brat.
Other NASCAR Notes
On Sirius Satellite Radio’s “Dialed In,” Claire B. Lang reported that the #48 of Jimmie Johnson and the #5 of Mark Martin were told by NASCAR not to bring their Dover cars back to the track because their tolerances were “too close.”
Here’s what I don’t understand: how can your car be too close? Either you’re in the zone established by the rules, or you’re not. If you’re in, congratulations, your car is legal. If you’re not, you get penalized. I don’t see where NASCAR can tell them anything if they’re to-close-to-not-being-legal. It’s legal, or it’s not, plain and simple. NASCAR has worked hard to eliminate the subjectivity in the sport, and they just had to go off and be all subjective unnecessarily.
Also, with all the fuss about Danica Patrick and whether she may or may not be coming to NASCAR, one hears lots of talk about how she should follow Juan Montoya and take his advice because he’s been the only open-wheeler to be successful in stock cars.
It seems people have forgotten something. There’s a good reason she and Tony Stewart have befriended each other: Tony is a former Indy Racing League champion! Tony won the IRL championship in 1997, and then ran in the then-Bush series in 1998 for Joe Gibbs Racing, before coming to Cup in 1999. Just sayin’, I don’t hear a lot about that. It seems it’s being missed.