Over lunch recently, a reporter stumbled into his path with a question about another situation in the sport. It was about how Stewart would handle it.
The once quick-tempered Sprint Cup champion, who is again in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, cut right to the chase.
“I appreciate the angle,” he said of the question, “but it makes my Monday a lot easier when I don’t have to justify to another reporter after I commented on somebody else’s drama.”
The once-outspoken Stewart has got enough to do on Mondays.
And Tuesdays. And Wednesdays. Not to mention what he’s got to do on the weekends.
A little more than two years ago, Tony Stewart stood at Talladega Superspeedway and told the world he had “multiple offers on the table right now.”
It shook the racing world a little bit, because he seemingly had everything going for him at Joe Gibbs Racing. He was one of the top drivers in the sport, he’d won a pair of championships, he had one of the best crew chiefs in the business in Greg Zippadeli and a solid sponsor in Home Depot.
But he wanted more. In the end, that little nugget of knowledge led to his new life, his current life as the driver/owner for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Thirty months later, sure there is plenty of stress in Stewart’s life — as one would expect running a NASCAR team — but the stress can’t outweigh the smile on his face.
“I think it was more fun that I ever thought it was going to be,” he said.
Maybe it could be more fun. Stewart is just in seventh in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, but it could be a lot less fun, too, as there are plenty of other drivers on NASCAR’s super teams who are miles behind his performance.
And even behind the performance of his lone teammate, Ryan Newman, who is doing pretty well for himself, currently among the Top 15 in the point standings.
Not bad for folks that said it couldn’t be done. Well, done and be successful.
After all, at the time the last driver/owner to own a spot in victory lane was Ricky Rudd in 1998 at Martinsville.
But after making things official announcement in July 2008, he made it look easy picking up his first win in June of the next season at Pocono.
However, Stewart wasn’t going at this half-cocked. He’d worked his way up the proverbial owner’s minor leagues.
In 2000, he formed Tony Stewart Racing and with a single World of Outlaws team. Today Stewart’s ventures span from Sprint Cup to sprint cars to even race tracks as the owner of Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval where he cut his teeth in USAC, and as a partial owner in two more tracks.
“I’ve always admired Tony (Stewart) as a race car driver,” said Newman. “He’s a champion and one of the best in the sport. What I didn’t realize was how keen he is when it comes to the business side of the sport.”
And business is pretty good for Stewart … even considering the economy.
When he broke out on his own, Stewart — let alone anyone — had any way of knowing just how bad the economy would turn out. The housing market, the stock market, even the slumping television market for his sport has all took a hit.
But earlier this month, Stewart proved again he could run with the big dogs even off the track. With sponsorship hard to find in the current climate, Stewart landed a multiyear deal with Mobil 1 as a primary sponsor of his No. 14 Chevrolet with deals already in place with Office Depot and Burger King.
While Stewart admits he feels a huge weight on his shoulders running the teams, he’s quick to tell you it’s not all him.
“I’m not smart enough to sit there to run the whole thing,” he said. “You hire the right people … You have to let those guys do their job.
“It’s all in how you treat people.”
And as far as his most visible employee is concerned, that’s not just talk.
“We have a great relationship,” Newman said. “He treats me as an equal, not as my boss.”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3570.