NASCAR Champ Tony Stewart: Drivers Take on Full-Size Cars Too Young

Car owner and former driver thinks racers should wait until they're 16 to compete in full-size race cars.

Tony Stewart & Mobil 1 Event
Rainier Ehrhardt—NASCAR via Getty Images

With racers in late-model racing ranks getting younger and younger, NASCAR team owner and retired three-time NASCAR championship driver Tony Stewart became the second NASCAR star to voice his concern over kids climbing into full-size race cars for competition, following recent comments made by 2015 NASCAR premier-series champion, Kyle Busch.

“I’m still one of those guys that I think it’s absurd for anybody that is under the age of 16 to be driving a full-size race car when society doesn’t even trust you to drive home from the grocery store two blocks away at 30 mph,” Stewart said at Texas Motor Speedway April 6 as NASCAR prepared for Sunday’s running for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 and Stewart hosted the Vankor Texas Sprint Car Nationals at the facility’s dirt track. 

Young racer Jake Garcia made history at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville in late March by becoming the youngest driver ever to race a late-model at that track. Timmy Tyrrell, the late model champion at Shenandoah Speedway in Virginia the last two seasons began racing a late model at that track in 2014 at the age of nine.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily an age thing as much as it’s an experience thing,” Busch said during media availability at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia, on March 24, ahead of the March 25 running of the STP 500 on March 26. "I look at go-karts, how did that particular individual do in go-karts and Bandoleros or Legend cars. What has his history been in vehicles? Has he won races? Has he been good? Has it been worth him moving up each and every time that he gets to a new vehicle? I don’t think it’s smart to just start at 10 or start at 13 in a late model, that absolutely should not be possible.’’

Both Stewart and Busch started their racing careers as youngsters, but Busch started in Legends cars and Stewart in go-karts. Busch didn’t race a late model until 16, and Stewart was still racing go-karts when he reached his 16th birthday.

Stewart says people are too caught up with age and not focused enough on talent with some dismissing prospects if they're in their 20s or beyond. 

"I personally know drivers that I feel like have the talent and deserve to have the opportunity. There’s other guys that I know in open-wheel racing that I know deserve the opportunity, but because they’re not a teenager, they’ll never get an opportunity and never get the shot," he said. "We’re on some silly craze that you’ve got to be a teenager.’’

“The stats prove that you don’t have to be a teenager to win races,’’ Stewart said, pointing at his Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, 42-year-old Kevin Harvick and 38-year-old Clint Bowyer, who have combined to win four of the first seven races of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, 27, has been the only NASCAR Cup Series race winner under the age of 30, so far, in 2018. Busch won Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas at the age of 32.