8/9/2013 10:51:00 PM Tony Stewart: Don't Change
I am not really a true racing fan. By that I mean I like racing and I have a favorite NASCAR driver, but I can’t rattle off all his sponsors and teammates like a true fan would. I only watch racing once in a while and rarely a whole race. But I do check the standings and see who’s battling for the last spot in the Chase and who won the last race. I also check to see how the local ML Motorsports team is doing. (My sports editor, Dale Hubler, is one of those true NASCAR fans with encyclopedic knowledge of all the drivers. He likes Dale Earnhardt Jr., poor misguided soul.) Anyway, the guy I like to see win is Tony Stewart. I’ve always liked the way he races and the way he handles himself off the track. A bit of a bad boy, he definitely makes for some pretty interesting post-race footage from time to time. Sometimes his comments after races are immediate classics as well. His helmet tosses are legendary. I also like that he’s from Columbus, Ind. He’s won the NASCAR championship three times, which puts him in some pretty elite company when it comes to race car drivers. But probably the thing I most like about Stewart is that I get the sense the guy just really loves to drive race cars. All kind of race cars. He’s definitely not one of the pretty boys of the sport, or one of the little rich kids whose daddy bought him a ride. The guy is the real deal. All he wants to do is go fast and win at all sorts of tracks. It was this obsession with racing that got him into a bit of trouble this week when on Monday night, at a sprint car track in Oskaloosa, Iowa, he crashed and broke his leg. He was leading the A-main feature at the time, got tangled up in lap traffic, made contact with another car and flipped several times. To be sure, this was a costly injury for him. Stewart, 42, currently is 11th in points in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with only five races left in the regular season. The top 10 drivers at the end of the regular season – plus two wild-card drivers between 11th and 20th with the most wins – make the Chase. (The Chase is the last 10 races of the year where only those aforementioned 12 drivers are battling for the championship.) Stewart broke both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. He had preparatory surgery early Tuesday morning, and underwent a second surgery Thursday when a metal rod was inserted in his tibia. At this writing, there’s no word on how long he will be out of action, but he was still in the hospital Friday so the guy’s leg must be pretty banged up. Tuesday afternoon, according to ESPN.com, Stewart posted the following on his web site: "I told someone to go get my phone or else I was going to get up and get it myself. Finally got reconnected to the world and just want to say thank you for all the prayers and well wishes. My team will remain strong and I will be back." Classic Tony Stewart. But comes now all the “experts” and naysayers of the sport talking about what a bonehead move it is for Stewart – or any other NASCAR driver for that matter – to race at smaller venues. Guys like Hall of Fame NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip who said Stewart’s accident “might be the straw that broke the camel's back” when it comes to NASCAR drivers racing in small venues for fun. “Some owners and drivers now might decide it's too risky and curtail this,” he said. Plenty of other racers and fans are weighing in as well, saying that NASCAR drivers should focus only on NASCAR racing. See, I just about 100 percent disagree with that. As I said earlier, Stewart’s love for racing and willingness to duel it out on small dirt tracks was one of the main reasons I like the guy. And how cool is that for the fans? Before his injury, Stewart was scheduled to race at Plymouth Speedway Aug. 17, in a 360 winged sprint. That’s the same type of car he wrecked in Iowa. The 360 is the number of cubic inches of engine displacement. He also races 410s in the World of Outlaws. So how great is it for fans to be able to plunk down 15 or 20 bucks at the Plymouth Speedway and watch Tony Stewart tear it up goin’ sideways through the turns in a sprint car.? It’s awesome. Stewart owns Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. You can go there and get a pit pass for $30 and stand next to his car. Hubler has done just that a couple times this year. Stewart doesn’t need any advice from me. He knows better than anybody what’s best for his career. I just hope he doesn’t take to heart all the chatter from critics who say he should stick only to NASCAR racing. I think what Stewart does is really cool and I admire him for it. Let’s think about this for a minute. Let’s apply this to a sport I truly love – golf. What Tony Stewart does is akin to Phil Mickelson showing up at Maxwelton for the Friday best ball. How cool would that be? Very cool. Very cool indeed.