Tony Stewart's lack of competitive fire, not NASCAR, is to blame

Dave Ongie • Apr 30, 2007 at 11:36 AM

Up until last week, when Tony Stewart opened his mouth and said something about the state of the sport, I listened.

You had to respect a guy who drives race cars like Tony Stewart - he might be the best pure driver the sport has ever seen.

But when Stewart compared NASCAR Nextel Cup racing to pro wrestling last week, it was all smoke and mirrors.

The stupidity it took for Stewart to even throw the notion out there that Nextel Cup races are fixed is off the charts - even for a guy with Stewart's temper.

It's one thing to disagree with a ruling handed down by NASCAR, but it is completely irresponsible for Stewart to question the legitimacy of a sport that has filled his bank account with more money than he could ever dream of spending.

It wasn't so bad that Stewart said racing was fixed - stupid is as stupid does, as they say.

The unfortunate result of Stewart opening his mouth is that he gave ammunition to a group of conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landing was staged, pro wrestling is real and stock car racing falls into the same category as the moon landing.

First off, if NASCAR was staging its races, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have held off Jeff Gordon Sunday at Talladega to prevent Gordon from passing his father on the all-time wins list on what would have been Earnhardt Sr.'s 56th birthday.

Most people who believe NASCAR racing is fake will point to Junior's win at the Pepsi 400 in 2001, the first race at Daytona after Dale Sr.'s death.

Junior won the race with a dominant car, leading some to say NASCAR allowed DEI to put a little something extra under the hood of the No. 8 Chevy.

Well, it just so happens there was a little extra something under the hood of Junior's car that day - it was all the knowledge Earnhardt picked up on his way to 11 restrictor plate wins.

The idea that NASCAR is fixing races is laughable, but it made for a headline-grabbing smoke screen for Stewart's real gripe - debris cautions.

There have been more debris cautions in recent years as NASCAR has buckled down and become serious about driver safety.

The number of cameras and officials on the lookout for debris is mind-boggling, and the increasing number of yellow flags shows that they're doing their job.

Stewart's gripe is that NASCAR throws a debris caution when a driver is running away from the field or when certain drivers are in need of a pit stop.

Now this is a valid concern, and it's one that NASCAR could fix pretty easily.

If debris is spotted on the track, throw the yellow flag, but don't award a lucky dog, don't open pit road and keep the caution laps to a minimum. It can't take more than a lap or two to pick up a piece of sheet metal.

But the pro wrestling rant and Stewart's dislike of debris cautions hide a bigger issue that has been developing so far this season - Smoke seems more content to complain and less prepared to race hard for wins.

Although he missed the Chase last year, Stewart's pedal-to- the-metal romp through the final 10 races had everyone talking about him as a title contender this year.

But instead of bringing that fire into 2007, Stewart has faded into the background most race weekends.

Despite Joe Gibbs Racing's mastery of the Car of Tomorrow, Stewart has not been able to cash in and win a CoT race despite having a better car then everyone in the field not named Denny Hamlin.

The most glaring example of Stewart's newfound softness came at Phoenix.

After a daring three-wide pass of Gordon to take the lead, Stewart allowed the No. 24 car to bump him and slide by on the low side to earn the win.

The old Stewart would have put his nose into the right quarter panel of Gordon's car before the No. 24 got by and let the chips fall where they may.

So before Stewart decides to point more fingers and level more allegations, he should pause and take a long look into the mirror and find out where his competitive fire has gone.

Because Smoke has no one to blame for his problems that isn't inside that No. 20 Chevy every Sunday afternoon.

Recommended for You

    Kingsport Times News Videos