George Diaz: Tony Stewart hopes first victory will ease perpetual pain

Tony Stewart hurts every day — about 97 percent of the time, from the morning when he wakes up to shut-eye time at night. But the other 3 percent rocks.
Jul 24, 2014

Tony Stewart hurts every day — about 97 percent of the time, from the morning when he wakes up to shut-eye time at night.

But the other 3 percent rocks.

“I don’t feel pain in the race car,” he said. “I haven’t from Daytona on through even this past weekend. So I know that’s probably around 3 percent of my week that I spend in the race car, but as long as that 3 percent is comfortable and I can enjoy doing what I’m doing, I can deal with the pain the other 97 percent of the week.”

You should know the back story by now: Stewart went crash-bam-boom at a half-mile dirt oval event in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Aug. 5, 2013. The collateral damage included a broken right tibia and fibula, requiring three surgical procedures.

Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, didn’t qualify for NASCAR’s postseason Chase last year. And without a win this year in a revised playoff format, Stewart stands precariously close to not making the cut again.

He is 19th in points heading into The Brickyard at Indianapolis this weekend, hoping for a little home-state mojo. But first, a pit stop in Eldora, where Stewart will pay homage to dirt again in the Camping World Truck Series “Mudsummer Classic” scheduled for Wednesday night.

Stewart, who owns the dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio, won’t be competing and only will be a gracious host. But anyone who thinks that Stewart has been scared straight doesn’t know much about him.

Racing is Stewart’s passion, whether it’s paved tracks or dirt ones. Dirt-racing is his leisurely hobby, which is why he was at the Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Michigan, competing last Friday night.

He also happened to win the race.

Stewart loves the best of both worlds and will not be compromised by naysayers, so there’s no point in telling him to stop.

The question now becomes whether he makes it to the Chase to silence those who can reasonably argue that he wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place had he not gone dirt-track racing.

“As much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we’re kind of in a position where we’re close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that,” Stewart said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword right now. Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk — if you run second — losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, ‘Well, I need to have a solid points day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.’ ”

Stewart has seven races to make it happen before the 16-driver cutoff after the September race in Richmond. It would be nice to see him in the mix. Stewart often could win Most Prickly Driver In The Garage honors in any given season, but his acerbic personality is refreshing from the homogenized chit-chat along pit road.

He’s also a darn good racer, regardless of what he’s driving.

On to Eldora, then Indy, it is, hoping that the 3-percent thrill ride alleviates a painful season.

TV MONEY DYNAMICS

The Cold War keeps simmering in a power struggle for the keys to NASCAR.

Influential owners are jostling with the France family, trying to share the perks of the joyride that’s getting far more lucrative. The new TV deals in place with Fox and NBC are expected to pay $820 million a year for the next 10 years, up 46 percent from the previous ones.

Under the terms of the contracts, 25 percent will go to the race teams, 65 percent will go to the tracks and 10 percent goes to NASCAR.

And so while a group of influential owners recently formed The Racing Alliance under the guise of pooling resources for things like better hotel rates, no one is buying the concept of cheaper rates at the Marriott as the driving force of this deal.

Including NASCAR chairman Brian France.

“That would probably be the worst thing we could ever do — to listen to one voice, even if it were a consensus voice,” France told Sirius/XM’s Sirius Speedway show on Monday. “Every decision we’ve ever made that’s important, the more input, the more people we heard from, the better the result. That will never change in the business model of NASCAR because good ideas come from all over the place.”

Translation: Take your little alliance and mosey on out of here.

Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman is the official leader and spokesperson for the nine-team alliance, appointed by his fellow team owners.

But he has offered little specifics of what its point and purpose are other than a few cost-cutting initiatives and building long-term value for the teams. But what about having a voice in the schedule or a more influential voice in rule changes, particularly modifications in cars?

Once again, the reception has been fairly frosty.

“We didn’t think it was necessary,” France said. “We think the benefits they will arrive at with this association will be much smaller than they do.”

Comparisons to the 1990s’ destructive split between Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and the Indy Racing League (IRL) are off base at the moment, but the implosion is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Is anybody going to play nice?

FORD RULING

Will there be a Ford in Victory Lane at Indianapolis this weekend? Ford Racing comes into this weekend’s Brickyard 400 with four consecutive Sprint Cup victories. The last time Ford won four consecutive races was in 2001 when Dale Jarrett (3) and Elliott Sadler (1) combined to hit the mark.

MORE BRICKYARD TRIVIA

This year’s NASCAR race at Indy recognizes the 20th anniversary of the inaugural Brickyard 400, won by Jeff Gordon, then 23. He remains the youngest winner at the event.

Fifteen of the 20 winners also are Cup season champions. That includes NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett and 2015 inductee Bill Elliott.

The winner of the race has gone on to take the season title eight times. Those victories are split among season champs Gordon, Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson (three times).

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