Tough. Outspoken. Reckless. Tony Stewart has been filling an A.J. Foyt-sized hole in American motorsport since the mid-nineties, the last real sumbitch on pit row. He ruffles feathers and wins championships. But, mostly, he just drives: Whether it’s stock cars or Indy or small town dirt ovals, racing needs Stewart almost as much as Stewart needs racing. And, finally, the man has recovered from his ATV injury, the one that sidelined him for the first eight races of this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Yes, Tony Stewart has been cleared to race this weekend.
"Richmond is a track where I feel very comfortable, and because it's a short track, the speeds are substantially less,” the 44-year-old said. Still, he concedes that he’s taking “a strategic approach” to his return. He’ll be on the grid and starting at Talladega, but only to ensure he gets the points. Stewart’s aiming to be back at 100 percent for the Kansas 400 next month, then finish out the remainder of the Sprint Cup season, his sixteenth and last.
Stewart also sounded off about a recent NASCAR rule change that makes it legal for teams to release cars without all five lug nuts in place. The idea is to decrease the number of folks hustling around the pit box, and thus improve pit lane safety. Apparently, Stewart thinks that going balls-out at 200 mph with three lug nuts on each wheel does not improve safety (go figure), and expressed this sentiment to a reporter at USA Today:
With all the crap we're going through with all the safety stuff, and for them to sit there and sit on their hands on this one… This is not a game you play with safety and that's exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this.rr
We shouldn't be playing games with safety to win races. It should be out-performing the other teams, not jeopardizing drivers' lives by teams putting two lug nuts on to try to get two more spots off pit road.
His comments, according to the series, qualify as "disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR leadership." So, just mere hours after announcing his return, NASCAR hit Stewart with an enormous fine.
Welcome back, Smoke. We missed you.