Racing Beat

Tony Stewart is having another controversial year.

Fighting Fire with Fire
He’s been burned by the media – at least to hear him tell it – and he’s been burned in his car, as was the case earlier this season during a crash at Texas that left him slightly “singed.”

But Tony Stewart, the bad boy of NASCAR Nextel Cup racing and former series champion, has hardly lost his competitive fires. The one in Texas, however, did make for some frightening moments.

“Basically what happened, we went into turn one, the crankshaft broke in two,” he says of the crash. “By the time we got slowed down and got in an area where we could get down off of the racing groove, get slowed down, we were already on fire. Basically I just got the car stopped as quick as possible, got out. There are some second-degree burns, a lot of first-degree burns on that side of my leg, none of which is in contact with the seat itself.”

As usual, Stewart has had his share of controversial moments in 2005. In June he bumped Jeff Gordon and spun him into the wall and out of the race.

During a Busch Series crash at Texas in which the cars of Stewart and Brandon Miller hooked up, then Stanton Barrett hit Stewart, the man was not amused.

Barrett then fired back at Stewart in a harsh press release, saying he had nowhere to go to avoid the accident.

“You know, all you got to do is look at tape,” Stewart says. “The guy was already a lap down. To say that he had nowhere to go, I guess he doesn’t know where the brake pedal is. If he can’t figure out which direction to point the car, at least figure out how to make it slow down.

One new issue in NASCAR is day-night races, events which start under the sun and end under the stars. The format – which is used more frequently at lighted tracks – has received mixed reviews.

“I like night racing anyway,” Stewart says. “I always have. The good thing about night races, I get to sleep in the morning. Aside from that, the challenge is the same for everybody as far as how the surface temperature of the racetrack will cool off. But that’s the good thing about it, it does give us a challenge that we don’t normally have on a day where the sun is out all day and the track normally won’t change a lot.

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“It just adds another variable that makes it more exciting for the fans, I think.”

What excites Stewart is racing in several different series. Already a veteran of Indycar events, he also hopes to make it to a few dirt tracks before the 2005 season is done.

“I don’t know if I’m going to get the chance to do that this year, but I really enjoyed it last,” he says. “Just knowing that I’ve been able to run a wing sprint car is something that’s a highlight for me.”

Gibbs racing – featuring Stewart and Bobby Labonte – has struggled in 2005.

“It’s just been a little bit of everything this year. We’ve been off, we think, on our aero program some,” he says. “Obviously we had a motor problem that we haven’t had in the past. It happened with the crankshaft breaking. We’ve just had a lot of weird things happen that we aren’t used to. Hopefully we’ll find it soon to where we can get the issues addressed.”

Even when he struggles, however, Stewart enters each race with confidence.

“I’m always comfortable,” Stewart says. “You know, it just seems like historically we normally get a slow start to the season when the tracks are cooler. Seems like the tracks have a lot more grip that way. Seems like when we get into May, June and July is when we really hit our stride.

“I don’t feel a sense of urgency of trying to get back on track right now. I mean, I feel like we’re just kind of in a learning process right now. We’re not really on par like we’ve been in the past. But I’m not feeling like, hey, we’ve got to really find this soon or we’re going to be in big trouble.”

As for his bad boy image, Stewart makes no apologies.

“People don’t have to guess about what’s going on in my mind,” he says. “I am pretty open and honest about it. I’m very black and white about how I feel. I’ve always felt like if somebody asks me an honest question, I should be able to give them an honest answer, not hold anything back.”

Not-So-Young Gun
Baseball great Satchel Paige is credited with saying, “