In a season marked by tragedy,
Tony Stewart is a champion
Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kevin Harvick hugs Tony Stewart after winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
By Jordan Hyland
November 26, 2014
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
August 9, 2014 was the day everything changed for Tony Stewart.
Before that day, Tony Stewart was known as a three-time champion with a bit of a temper. At times, controversy swirled around him over the years with various on-track scuffles, but it never extended past tossing helmets at rival competitors or talking trash about Pepsi in post-race interviews.
Before that day, Tony Stewart was attempting to reboot his career after a sprint car accident destroyed his right leg.
But that day changed everything.
Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Tony Stewart turns laps at Phoenix International Raceway in March.
There is no need to speak of the events that happened that day, but it would be foolish to believe that Tony Stewart’s career would be unaffected. We saw nothing of Stewart for several weeks after the incident, and speculation arose that he would never step foot in a racecar again.
Until he did three weeks later.
His comeback, if nothing else, proved one thing – he was mentally strong. Everybody already knew that though. Stewart is NASCAR’s tough guy. He isn’t afraid of anybody or anything. This is the same guy that stood in front of Matt Kenseth’s car on pit road at Bristol, throwing his helmet with both hands into Kenseth’s hood and fist-pumping to the cheers of the crowd.
On the track, Stewart struggled by his own standards. He failed to win a race, missed the Chase, only earned three top-five finishes and finished in the top-ten only seven times in 33 races. All of these numbers were career lows; even lower than his 2013 totals when he missed 15 races. His winless season was the first of his Sprint Cup career.
Prior to the season, Stewart took a chance, dropping Ryan Newman and essentially trading him to Richard Childress Racing for Kevin Harvick. Additionally, he picked up former champion Kurt Busch, whose own controversy trumps even that of Stewart’s.
Both Busch and fellow Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick failed to make a big impact. Although Busch won at Martinsville, earning a berth in the Chase, and finished the season with six top-five’s and eleven top-ten’s, he DNF’d six different times, and was eliminated after the first three races of the Chase. Patrick added to SHR’s struggles by only notching three top-ten finishes on the season. With Stewart, Busch and Patrick all struggling, the team looked to Kevin Harvick to carry the team to success.
Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Tony Stewart turns laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The track was Stewart's first race after the tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
The combination of Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers in the No. 4 car was a success. They started the season with a bang, winning just their second race together at Phoenix International Raceway in March.
Despite finishing outside of the top-35 in four of the five races following their victory, the No. 4 car finished outside of the top-20 only three times in the remaining 28 races. The team swept the final two races of the season en route to claiming Harvick’s first championship and the second in SHR’s six-year lifespan under Stewart’s ownership.
Lost in the excitement of the championship round of the 2014 Chase and the battle between the four contenders was Tony Stewart’s stake in the title. Amidst possibly the worst year of Tony Stewart’s life, both on and off the track, it would be only fitting that Kevin Harvick falls short at the end of the race and the miserable season concludes with a miserable finish.
Except it didn’t. After all Stewart went through, he was a championship owner for the second time in his career, and it is only fitting that Kevin Harvick brings him the lift that he needed. Ironically, the championship came down to Harvick and Ryan Newman, who departed from SHR after last season.
From August 9, 2014 to November 15, 2014, Tony Stewart’s life was the epitome of a living nightmare. With calls from both the media and fan base to imprison him, and labels such as “murderer,” it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. November 16, 2014 was that light. On that day, Tony Stewart had a reason to smile. That day also gave him hope; hope that he had a bright future in the sport of NASCAR, the sport that shaped him into the person that he is.
Whether you are a Stewart fan or not, it’s easy to get caught up in this feel-good story. In just a matter of three months, Tony Stewart was propelled from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. Although 2014 was a very forgettable year for him, last Sunday provided a happy ending and hope for a bright future.