|Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs|
Stewart won three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships: 2002, 2005, and is the reigning 2011 champion. He accomplished the first two Cups driving for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet.
In 2009 Stewart parted ways with JGR and fielded his own teams under Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) – his No. 14 and that of Ryan Newman in the No. 39.
Team ownership has changed Stewart in part. He is still a fantastic driver, does not mince words, and is aggressive, but now restrains himself in certain situations because he understands his role as team owner demands diplomacy.
In addition to Newman as teammate, Stewart decided to field a car for NASCAR starlet Danica Patrick – a deal made possible with Tommy Baldwin Racing and David Reutimann this season.
As Patrick’s boss for 10 Cup races, Stewart has had to carefully choose his words for the media about his driver’s abilities and performance. His talents on the race track may just be rivaled by his talent for acting in front of the post-race camera when discussing Patrick.
Aside from his role as boss to the lackluster Patrick this season, Stewart has had to deal with the financial stresses of being a team owner. Sponsor Office Depot announced in the September race in Atlanta that they would be parting ways with SHR.
Fortunately, by October 5th, Bass Pro Shops came on board to sponsor Stewart’s car for select races in 2013.
This goes to show what an absolute nightmare the economy is in NASCAR when the longtime favorite, three-time, defending Sprint Cup champion cannot keep a sponsor on his car and cannot retain full sponsorship for the next season.
This trend is accepted now. Sponsors regularly pay only for certain races and not entire seasons anymore.
Stewart seems nonplussed. He is still a racer first and foremost and is in the thick of another Chase.
The 2012 Chase, however, is not going as well as the record-setting one Stewart ran last year that led to his third championship.
By this time in the Chase in 2011 Stewart had won at Chicagoland Speedway, New Hampshire, and Martinsville. He, of course, went on to win Texas and Homestead-Miami which tied him in points with Carl Edwards. Only the five wins versus Edwards’ one were enough to propel Stewart to the championship. Five wins out of 10 in the Chase was extraordinary.
But this year Stewart hasn't found the magic he tapped into last year to win in the Chase and put
himself in strong contention for the Cup. What was a potential win at Talladega became a nightmarish end for Stewart, who moved to block but instead was tapped by a hard-charging Michael Waltrip on the last lap. The wreck sent Stewart sailing through the air, flipped, and hitting the roofs of several of his competitors before landing on his tires. Stewart miraculously walked away from the incident.
Going into Martinsville Stewart sat seventh in points, 47 points behind the leader Brad Keselowski. A 27th-place finish dropped him to 10th, 71 behind race winner and points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Regardless of his finish in this year’s Chase, Stewart has proven he is NASCAR royalty with his three Cups, his team ownership, his capitalizing on the popularity of Patrick, and his ability to still speak out when things ruffle his feathers.
Stewart running boldly in the Sprint Cup Series is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Chief 187™ is a writer, columnist, and blogger as well as creator of the widely popular Chief 187™Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.