2014 can’t get here fast enough. NASCAR’s missing man of the hour, Tony “Smoke” Stewart is promising a return with a vengeance come Daytona. The talking heads can talk all they want about the sport’s need for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Danica Patrick to be successful. What NASCAR really needs is a return to the track and a return to excellence by the man who is racing personified. Look up “racer” in the dictionary, and all you will need is a photo of the three-time champion.
Fans want a driver with passion. Where there’s Smoke, there’s fire; a burning desire spiced with grit in his gut, and the skill to wheel a 35-hundred pound muscle machine to victory lane. NASCAR, sprint cars, you name it, Tony will race it, not to mention his ownership of Eldora and his stake n Stewart-Haas Racing. Is it any wonder the 42 year old remains a bachelor? He’s married to his first love, well on his way to racing in over 100 events before his wreck in Iowa last August.
You may love him, you may loathe him, but there’s no denying that Tony Stewart is “all in.” Even the media that he so loves to mess with gets it when it comes to Smoke. The National Motor Sports Press Association honored him with the 2013 Myers Brothers Award,citing specifically Stewart’s work in bringing NASCAR racing back to dirt with the NCWTS event at Eldora last summer. It may not have been a race for the ages, but NASCAR was racing on dirt for the first time since Smoke was just a little spark.
It may be true that track ownership and team ownership have tempered Stewart a bit, a businessman has to know how to skillfully switch gears. But let’s not forget that this same Tony Stewart will still call out the media, his fellow drivers, NASCAR, you name it, when he feels that the need has arisen. It’s like the NASCAR promo says: you’ve got your sinners and your saints, your Hatfields and McCoys, some ladies and not so gentle men. The sport needs its Jimmie Johnsons and Matt Kenseths, but be assured you need your Tony Stewarts and your Kevin Harvicks as well.
And let us not kid ourselves either, that passion is born from a big heart. Not only a big heart for racing, but a big heart for the people in racing as well. The same Tony Stewart who tosses helmets also tosses generous amounts of financial support towards such causes as the Victory Junction Gang, tires for the ageless racer Morgan Shepherd, help for animals, injured drivers and children. I mean we’re talking about a driver who was actually given the “Good Guy Award” in 2004 by The Sporting News.
One may argue NASCAR is missing a lot of things, but one of the things NASCAR has missed most is a driver the old schoolers who appreciate a no holds barred approach to the sport and to life. They know that where there’s Smoke (Stewart), there’s fire. NASCAR needs Tony Stewart, and his return can’t come soon enough.