CONCORD, N.C. -- Even for the incorrigible Tony Stewart, pinching buttocks isn't allowed in the boardrooms of Corporate America.
Such devilish behavior is as likely to get someone slapped with a lawsuit as a multimillion-dollar check for a Sprint Cup sponsorship.
Yet Stewart's playful goosing of DeLana Harvick before Sunday's Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway said a lot about why the three-time champion commands as much financial clout as anyone in NASCAR's premier series, and why he has showed no outward signs of panic over filling a budget gap of probably at least $15 million for next season.
He is the closest approximation to Dale Earnhardt -- another superstar known for sneaking up to grab unsuspecting victims in the garage -- since the iconic seven-time champion was killed in 2001.
Stewart gets away with mischief that no other driver would be permitted, and it's that swagger that sets him apart from his peers the same way that Earnhardt used to rule NASCAR's premier series.
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There were no secret fines for "The Intimidator" when he lambasted the racing at Daytona International Speedway as so abysmal, it would have had Bill France Sr. rolling in his grave. Instead, the sanctioning body rushed back to the drawing board on improving its rules. When he spun out drivers for wins (such as Terry Labonte on the final lap at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1999), officials often swallowed their whistles.
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The same dispensation often gets afforded the irascible driver known as "Smoke" for both blazing speed and a fierce temper. Insiders scoffed at conjecture that Stewart might be penalized for last month's two-handed helmet hurl at Matt Kenseth (if anything, NASCAR Chairman Brian France should have considered cutting Stewart-Haas Racing a break on entry fees for the fan-pleasing outburst). When Stewart delivered a deadpan explanation that approached Andy Kaufman-esque performance art on how much he liked crashing at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway, it drew many snickers but no sanctions.
Same with Sunday's prank on Harvick. Stewart nonchalantly played it off as "old news" but did appreciate the video had gone viral enough to attract CNN Headline News and other mainstream media.
"Anything I do gets that attention," Stewart said. "Which still amazes me. I guess it's a compliment."
It's an advantage when you have the force of will and unappreciated business savvy shared by Earnhardt and Stewart. Neither earned an MBA, but both leveraged their magnetic personalities into building business empires in auto racing.
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Despite an eighth-grade education, Earnhardt blazed the path for branding, licensing and merchandising deals that now earn drivers tens of millions annually, and Dale Earnhardt Inc. built a lucrative sponsor foundation on his reputation has much as the multicar team's results.
When Stewart was made an equal partner in Gene Haas' team four years ago, it required no investment other than his promise of assiduously pursuing sponsors and keeping them happy. It worked as Stewart's presence immediately lured Office Depot, Old Spice and others into Cup.
Though he downplays his role as "a closer," the Stewart-Haas Racing marketing staff always bring in its namesake when a deal is near being finalized.
The white-collar world then sees another side to the class clown who was in vintage form Tuesday during a "Wounded Warriors Project" news conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he teased reporters as being lemmings and regaled a crowd with quips about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
"A lot of times they're surprised there is more to (me) than just being a race car driver," Stewart said. "I don't have a business degree, and I'm not the best guy on the business side, but I do understand it a little bit.
"I'm not sitting there with my hand out saying, 'Write us a check.' It's more than just me being somebody they see on TV. When I get involved, it's more meeting everybody and making sure they're comfortable. It's making sure we can fulfill what their goals and objectives are."
Though it certainly helps he is attuned to Fortune 500 interests, it's probably not essential. Stewart's blue-collar charisma guarantees the kind of sway with middle-class America that many companies seek -- and which SHR needs with Office Depot and its 22-race sponsorship leaving next year.
Yet don't expect Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet to be unadorned with logos for many, if any, races in 2013. The money will come because of his beloved persona regardless if it can manifest itself in R-rated outbursts.
How, Stewart was asked, does he make the money hunt look so easy?
"Looks are deceiving," he said with a smile.
Look no further than where he put his hands while prowling pit lane Sunday.
NW: 7, 31, 3, 11, 60, 88, 12
Trucks: 9, 88, 3, 7, 17, 31
IRL: 10, 11, 12, 26, 3, 38, 27
RIP Dan Wheldon
"Fight for Four"- Annalee
You got to have a big gigantic drum kit.