The day is finally here. I’ve been looking forward to this column since Lipstick and Lugnuts went public because I get to tell you ALL about Tony Stewart today.
Fan or not, you’ll be absolutely amazed at his accomplishments over the years from a very young age to a current and successful driver/owner.
We’ll take a look at Tony’s USAC, IndyCar and NASCAR accomplishments because believe me when I say there are many.
Plus I’ll include some awesome eye candy for the ladies (mainly for my enjoyment) and even take a look at Tony’s Camping World Truck career. I bet not too many of you knew he raced in that NASCAR series, did you?
Let’s get started because I’ve been ready for this for months. Let’s roll.
Anthony Wayne (yes, his real name) Stewart was born on May 20, 1971 in Columbus, INDIANA! Can you tell I’m a proud Hoosier? He attended Columbus North High School and played the trombone in the high school band (little known fact) and began his go karting career in 1987.
He begain racing in the UMRA where he raced three-quarter midgets until 1991 when he moved up to USAC and was crowned Rookie of the Year that same year. He was the National Midget series champion by 1994 so as you can see he got started and succeeded rather quickly.
In 1995, Tony became USAC’s very first “triple crown” winner by earning championships in ALL THREE of USAC’s major divisions. These include the National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown.
In 1996, Tony made his IndyCar debut in the IRL and when he wasn’t racing IndyCars he was driving stock cars and made his Nationwide debut in 1996 as well along with the Craftsman Truck Series. So he was a busy dude, believe me.
1996 was also an important year because Tony earned the very coveted Rookie of the Year title in the 1996 Indianapolis 500, the IndyCar Rookie of the Year title as well and also sat on the pole position for the 1996 Indianapolis 500.
Tony’s very first truck series start came in 1996 at IRP (where else?) and his first win came in 2002 at the Virginia Is For Lovers 250 at Richmond (the race title is no joke). Overall, Tony won twice in the truck series and earned five top tens but keep in mind, he wasn’t even in the truck series for a full season.
Tony’s very first Nationwide Series start came in 1996 as well at the Goody’s Headache Powder 300 at Daytona and his most recent win in this year in the same series came from the same track as well. Overall, Tony has earned six poles, 39 top tens and 10 wins in the Nationwide Series during his racing career.
After his rookie season in IndyCar Tony was looking great to make a major move in the series but really didn’t do all that well in 1997 and did not finish the first three races of the ten-race schedule but made a recovery and had a strong second place finish at Phoenix.
1997 was also a rough year for me as well because Tony was going to win the Indianapolis 500 (which still haunts me to this day) and led 64 laps of the race. However, problems persisted and he ended up settling for a fifth-place finish. Tony finally scored his first win at Pike’s Peak and led 193 of 200 laps.
Tony had finishes of 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 11th and 14th which included five DNF’s in 1997 but it was still enough to beat Davey Hamilton for the series championship.
He also managed to race a limited schedule in the USAC division in 1997 and 1998 as well where he finished thirteenth and eleventh in the national points and won the Copper Classic both years.
Sooooooo…between USAC, NASCAR and IRL Tony was literally unstoppable. However, during these pivotal and developmental years Tony earned his nickname “Smoke” about this time because if any fans paid attention to his IndyCar and USAC runs they would notice one of two things: he’s either blow his engine and DNF or he’d cut a tire during dirt races:
I wasn’t very good about not slipping the right-rear tire, initially. So it started as ‘Smoker,’ then it got shortened to ‘Smoke.’ Then when I got in the Indy Racing League it was ‘Smoke’ because one of the guys on the crew who was my roommate, and knew the nickname, carried it over to the IndyCar team. But then when I started blowing engines, ‘Smoke’ really stuck. I’ve had it ever since. (Tony Stewart / Wikipedia)
See where the nickname “Smoke” came from now? Yeah, back then something he wasn’t really proud of at the time.
Moving on to 1998, Tony ran a full-time IndyCar schedule along with most of the Nationwide schedule as well but double-duty was no concern for him. The year did have a bit of a low point when he finished dead last in the 1998 Indianapolis due to a (you guessed it) blown engine but Tony also finished in the top-five five times in 22 Nationwide Series starts that year as well so pretty impressive on the NASCAR side.
With finishes that were similar to series regulars Joe Gibbs decided that 1999 would be Tony’s debut in the Winston Cup Series where he earned the Rookie of the Year honors that year as well. On a sad note, Tony ended his full-time IndyCar career after three seasons. A lot of fans think he raced IndyCar for a long time but he didn’t at all and was even crowned champion in one of those years.
How many fans couldn’t stand Tony when he first came to NASCAR? Raise your hands, please. My hand is in the air because I couldn’t stand to even hear Tony speak. Even in his IndyCar days he’d always have a problem with somebody or something and was always whining. Sound familiar? Yeah, except back then it was annoying.
Tony’s rookie NASCAR season was simply amazing. He won three times at Richmond, Phoenix and Homestead. At the time, Tony held the record for most wins by any driver in a rookie season until Jimmie Johnson would tie the record in 2002.
Tony finished his rookie season fourth in the points standings and is the highest finish by any rookie in NASCAR’s “modern era” racing and took home the Rookie of the Year award as well. Tony held this record until 2006 when Denny Hamlin finished third in the standings.
Let’s not forget Tony did double-duty in the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 that year as well. He finished in the top ten in both races (ninth an fourth) but only finished 1,090 miles of the 1,100-mile schedule distance.
Tony won six races in his 2000 season at Martinsville, New Hampshire, Michigan and swept Dover by winning both races. He had a few DNFs this season which would ultimately cause him to finish sixth in the final standings.
As we all know 2001 was not the season any of us anicipated in the season-opening Daytona 500 but for me, as a fan, it was ultimately the worst day for me. Not many people remember the extremely violent crash that Tony was involved in on lap 173. To this day, I will not watch that wreck because it’s the worst moment I’ve ever witnessed as Tony’s biggest fan.
However, the season was a success because Tony ended up finishing second in the final standings to Jeff Gordon for the series championship and again, did double-duty at the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 where he finished sixth and third. 2001 also saw Tony’s first probationary period being issued as well for a controversial spin of Jeff Gordon on pit road at Bristol.
Although 2002 was Tony’s first NASCAR championship year it was definitely without controversy. At the halfway point, Tony had won twice at Atlanta and Richmond but was only seventh in the points standings. Leave it to Tony to have an altercation with a photographer at Indianapolis after the Brickyard 400 because that’s what happend and it cost him probation for the remainder of the season.
He won the following week at Watkins Glen and finished in the top-five for much of the remainder of 2002 and helf off a late-charging Mark Martin for the series title.
I’m moving on to 2005 because this is a very special year for me as a fan and it was all in thanks to Tony because I truly believe he kept me sane as a human being that year:
I lost my only brother in a car accident in 2005, broke up with my boyfriend of nearly seven years (at the time was living in North Carolina) and moved BACK to Indiana about the time Tony moved back to Indiana as well and he took up double-residency between Charlotte and Columbus. Karma? Maybe.
I needed a release so I decided for the first time in five years I’d attend a NASCAR race as a spectator. I’d been working as an employee at Lowe’s Motor Speedway part-time during races as a suite attendant for Kraft. So I bought my first tickets to the 2005 Brickyard 400.
I’d witnessed Tony’s win in Charlotte from the suites in 2003 but when he crossed the checkers for the 2005 Brickyard 400 I’d never cried harder and literally could not stand as my knees buckled on the last lap. It was by far the best day I’ve ever witnessed as a fan and I have Tony to thank for that because at the time I was extremely depressed.
He also went on to win the series championship that year as well. So thank you, Tony Stewart. Your 2005 season meant more to me than you’ll ever know.
Okay, wiping away tears let’s move on and I’m going to jump to 2007 because it was a great season. Not only did he get placed on the cover of EA’s “NASCAR ’08″ for the third time he just simply had an amazing season as he won three times at the Brickyard, Chicagoland and Watkins Glen where Jeff Gordon spun out on the final lap.
But the crowning moment for me in 2007 was when NASCAR fined Tony $25,000 for saying “bullshit” (can I say that here?) after he won the 2007 Brickyard 400. Yes, he used it in Victory Lane. What a classy dude.
In July of 2008 it was confirmed that Tony was being released from the last year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing. Tony being a very loyal Chevrolet advocate decided to break away and become an owner/driver where he moved to Haas-CNC Racing and eventually would become Stewart-Haas Racing where he remains today.
On August 15, 2008 (as a Hoosier, I remember this date well), fellow Indiana native Ryan Newman inked a multi-year contract to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing. This is one of my favorite dates in NASCAR history.
On June 7, 2009 Tony won the Pocono 500 and became the first driver/owner to win a Cup series race since Ricky Rudd back in 1998. Tony also won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona alsong with the Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway and finished the 2009 season sixth in the final points standings.
In 2010 Tony won races at Atlanta and California and would remain is final win until this past weekend at Chicagoland Speedway where he snapped a 32-race winless streak. Since 1999, Tony Stewart has won forty times, finished in the top ten 247 times and won twelve poles during his Sprint Cup career.
However, let’s not forget Tony Stewart the man either. Not only is he the founder of the Tony Stewart Foundation he also owns Eldora Speedway AND Paducah International Raceway. At Eldora, Tony puts on the most major of charity racing events called the Prelude to the Dream annually as well. His major charities include donations to chronically ill children, drivers injured in motorsports races and protection of animals as well.
Sooooo…my apologies for boring all the Tony Stewart haters in the world but can you see now why I see he’s so damn amazing? It’s hard not to be a fan of his even if you just recognize his accomplishments as a driver in a very short span of time. The man’s only been in NASCAR for 12 years.
Tony will always be my favorite driver and the day he walks away from racing (which will probably be never – look at his old man, Nelson who is in his 70′s) will be the day I walk away from racing because I truly cannot see myself pulling or supporting any other driver better than Tony Stewart.
Want to find Tony Stewart on the Internet? Sure you do!