Opinion: Don't give up on Tony Stewart
By Aaron_Rosser @ Nascar Lug Nuts On May 11 2015, 08:08am
What does it mean to be a fan of someone or something, be it a television program, a particular actor or actress, a music group, a sports team, or a race driver?
On one hand, it means you get to ride their waves of success, celebrating each triumph in the ratings or award nomination or winning streak or great day at the race track. When you're a fan of an entity or individual that is on the top of the world, it feels like you're right there with them. It feels terrific, and in many cases can bring some much-needed validation to this world that seems to have gone completely mad.
There's a flip-side to that coin, however: continuing to be a fan in the face of perpetual disappointment. Nothing in life is always going to be sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops, and when the hard times hit you've got to be willing to wade the rocky waters with those you are so eager to support during the good times. Otherwise, what is the point?
Now obviously, artistic tastes can shift either through the evolution of an individual's soul or circumstances - your favorite rock group may suddenly attain an affinity for polka or your favorite TV show might kill off your favorite character, for instance - so fluidity in those situations is understandable. In the realm of human situations and competition, however, you better be willing to stand by your man - or woman - no matter what the forecast looks like.
And that brings us to Tony Stewart.
This month marks my 17th anniversary of becoming a fan of the man called Smoke, dating back to the Month of May 1998. I would come home from school every day and flip the television to ESPN2 (which had just been added to my family's cable provider) so I could watch practice for the Indianapolis 500. Throughout the month Stewart was interviewed numerous times, thanks to his status as reigning champion of what is now the Verizon IndyCar Series and the fact that his Team Menard entry was the favorite for the 500 victory. As an impressionable 11-year-old, I was struck by Stewart's blend of confidence (sometimes bordering on cockiness) and humor. On top of that, I thought it was cool as heck that he was doing the old A.J. Foyt routine: running IndyCars, stock cars (in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series) and USAC open-wheel cars at the same time.
All of a sudden, I had a new racing hero, and I've been on the train ever since. Obviously, it has been a tremendous ride so far. Three championships, 48 points-paying victories, plenty of other preliminary or exhibition wins, and all the other great statistics Tony has racked up since May '98 have validated hundreds of times over my decision to start pulling for the Rushville Rocket. The millions of other Tony Stewart fans across the country have reaped the same benefits.
Of course, right now and for nearly two years, things have been gloomy to say the least for Stewart's partisans. There is no sense in re-hashing the various scenarios that have played out since August 2013; everyone is well aware of all that Stewart himself has gone through personally while dealing with the worst professional stretch of his career.
Despite the misery from a fan's stand point and the fact that tuning into races during this stretch has, at times, teeter-tottered perilously close to the edge of masochism, I do tune in every week with the hope that that will be the race that marks the turning point. Stewart has gone through rough patches before - though none this rough or long - and broken out of them with a sudden strong performance. In 2005, he endured a miserable spring. In many races the car simply didn't perform, and in the races it did, there was always some bad luck (a loose wheel that derailed an almost-certain win at Martinsville, a blown engine at Texas, a late flat tire at Pocono) to ruin the day.
No one really remembers how badly Stewart struggled that spring, though, because one week after the aforementioned Pocono race, Stewart dominated at Michigan and came up just short to Greg Biffle (another top talent currently going through an extended slump). He followed that up with victories at Sonoma and Daytona and proceeded to go on a scorching summer run - including his long-awaited win at Indianapolis among a total of five triumphs following the Michigan break through - that carried him to his second championship.
As said before, Stewart's whole career has been littered with similar stretches that have ended with sudden, unexpected breakthrough runs that righted the ship in a big way. Take the 2013 season, for instance. Stewart had struggled through the first four months of the season when he picked up a solid seventh-place result at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte that served as yet another spring board. A week later, he scored his most recent victory to date at Dover. After that, he went on a tear, starting with back to back top-fives at Pocono and Michigan. A late incident with Jeff Burton derailed another top-10 run at Sonoma, and he had a typically poor day in Kentucky to temporarily halt the stretch of good races. The turnaround picked right back up again with a runner-up finish at Daytona, a fourth at Indianapolis, and a ninth in the return trip to Pocono the day before his sprint car accident.
In fact, had Stewart not run out of fuel while second at New Hampshire a week after Daytona, he would have been riding a four-race top-10 streak (and eight top-10s in the 10 races going back to Charlotte, including six top-fives - if the runner-up run at Loudon held - after not scoring a single one before his Dover win) when his season ended prematurely.
These history lessons should serve as inspiration for Stewart's fans and a reminder to all fans, including his detractors, that he could break out of his slump at any moment. The Stewart-Haas Racing team is firing on all cylinders with the cars and teams of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, and Danica Patrick's team is on the right track as well in her third full season of Sprint Cup racing. Once Stewart finally finds the feel he needs with the reduced horsepower and downforce found in the current Sprint Cup rules package (negating the throttle control tricks he has used in higher horsepower cars of all types to become one of motorsport's greatest icons) there is zero reason to believe that he won't reclaim his frontrunner status.
Stewart's real fans, the true blue diehards that continue to sport our t-shirts and caps proudly even as he languishes deep in the field, realize that. Unfortunately, an increasing number of self-professed Tony Stewart fans have begun to fall by the wayside, doubting or outright giving up on the man they cheered so vociferously during his five-win championship run in the fall of 2011 (yet another sudden breakthrough after a prolonged slump) in his time of struggle. I am very disappointed and frankly dismayed by that; now is when Stewart and the No. 14 team need the support of their fans the most.
By the same token, though, if those so-called fans aren't loyal enough to stand by Stewart and company right now, then good riddance and don't come crawling back when he turns it around. It's like the old saying goes: If you don't want me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best.
Meanwhile, the real Tony Stewart fans, the ones that have weathered the previous storms of fines and the cries for his suspension from cretinous fools who would turn race driving into a Care Bear-esque tapdance if they had their way, the ones who are fans of Tony Stewart the person as well as Tony Stewart the race driver, will continue to stand with him all the way. We've never given up on him before, and we certainly aren't going to now. Hopefully, as he searches for the answer he needs to kick off yet another "Smoke Show," he will take some comfort from that.
http://nascarlugnuts.com/articles/opini ... ny-stewart
"Fight For Four" - Annalee, March 27, 2012