BY BOB POCKRASS.......
Tony Stewart needs to get to racing in a sprint car. Not tomorrow. Not a week from now. Today.
He’s 21st in his weekend job of racing in the Sprint Cup Series. That’s subpar for the three-time Cup champ. He needs the comfort and the healing of a woman, I mean, a sprint car.
This would not be the recommended path for most on the NASCAR circuit. But Stewart is truly a rare breed. How many photos of his pet pig and of him eating out of a can of SpaghettiOs can he really tweet and make us think he’s happy.
For better or for worse, Stewart is married to his sprint car. It is what brings him true joy. It is raw. It is fierce. It is what lured him into this business to begin with. It’s why he likes that to be more private time than when he’s out at the Cup track.
Yes, a sprint car did break his heart last year. Actually, it broke his leg. In two places. Three surgeries and six months later, he was finally back in a stock car. That made him smile.
But getting in a sprint car last week for a test made him downright giddy. There’s nothing like hammering the gas in one of those cars and feeling the awesome power.
Driving a sprint car for Cup drivers, let’s face it, is stupid. Many get paid millions to race stock cars. To go out there in a high horsepower open-wheel car risks injury more than walking across the street or driving to the store. Drivers can’t live in a bubble but there’s a reason Richard Childress lets his grandsons compete in the occasional late model rather than a sprint car. There’s a reason that former sprint-car drivers Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. don’t race them anymore — they know better than to ask Jack Roush for permission.
But for Stewart to be at his best mentally, sprint cars have a soothing effect. They don’t just make him whole, they provide a necessary distraction so he doesn’t dwell on his Cup struggles. They help him clear his mind. They help him build endurance throughout the summer.
He now knows the guilt of getting injured in one of those cars, the guilt he has for putting his employees through not having their driver and leader in the car nor at the racetrack.
But those employees also knew what they were getting into when they went to work for Stewart. Just like Stewart knows the risks, all of his employees and sponsors know the risks as well. If they don’t want to deal with it, they can go somewhere else.
Stewart said Friday that it’s his life and he’ll live it the way he wants. That’s nice but he does have responsibilities. If he wanted to race motocross, it would be the wrong thing to do. If he wanted to go base jumping, that wouldn’t be smart at all.
He has to weigh risk versus reward. And here, the reward starts just when he buckles into his seat. Getting back in a stock car might have been Stewart’s return home, but getting back in a sprint car? That is like reuniting with the flame that somehow got