The time is now for Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart addresses the media at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.
Photo by Brian DeGruchy/The Racing Experts
By Zachary Lange
June 4, 2016
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
For many people, a retirement from your professional career after decades of hard work, successful results, and dedication to your craft would leave a person satisfied with what they had accomplished overall.
For Tony Stewart, the feeling of retirement is antithetical of that definition.
After an accident in January that left him with a fractured lumbar vertebrae in his back, Stewart returned to action in April at Richmond International Raceway and has so far provided mixed results.
Before his return to action, NASCAR provided Stewart a medical exemption from running all races to be eligible for the playoffs, provided he wins a race, finishes in the top-30 in points, or (by a longshot) not win a race yet finish in the points high enough to make it in without a victory.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer said the following about his medical waiver in April.
“NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities. We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck.”
In order for Tony Stewart to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the time to run consistently and effectively begins now.
Stewart has only one top-ten in the five races he has attempted thus far. Pair that with a DNF at Dover and lackluster runs at Richmond and Charlotte and so far Stewart sits 35th in points, 60 points back of 30th place David Ragan.
Tony Stewart races during the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
Photo by Ryan Willard/The Racing Experts
According to ESPN’s Bob Pockrass, at the pace David Ragan is accruing points at, Stewart must win and average a 25th place finish. It is manageable, as long as mistake riddled days such as Dover no longer happen.
Stewart’s average finish after five races this year is a mediocre 19th. While that is an improvement from an average finish of 25th (24.8) in all of 2015, it still only puts him 21st out of all active drivers who have competed in every race this year.
The next four tracks have not exactly been kind to Stewart in recent years too. In the past five races at Pocono, Michigan, Sonoma, and Daytona (a total of 20 races) Stewart has earned two top-five finishes (Sonoma 2012, Michigan 2013), and four top-tens. His average finish in the aforementioned 20 races is 23rd (22.6).
Winless since Dover in 2013, it is hard to believe that Stewart’s retirement season will be anything but a struggle for the Indiana native. Stewart is far removed from his past success in the sport, he hasn’t had ten or more top-ten finishes in one season since 2012, and his average finish hasn’t been below 13th since his championship run in 2011.
For Stewart and crew, unloading off the hauler in good form weekly now becomes a must. The Stewart-Haas Racing team can no longer afford to simply just be off of other competitor's practice times.
While Kyle Busch overcame the odds of an eleven race deficit in points last year to win the championship, Stewart seems to be mired back mid-pack.
If Stewart has any shot at making the post-season, he’ll have to consistently finish high, and take a shot at a win when and if the opportunity arises.