Did You Notice? … Tony Stewart is back in the news for his temper? A video posted by TMZ Sports, among many others, allege Stewart punched a heckler at a sprint car race in Jackson, Minn. the weekend of July 27. Stewart can be seen chasing after the race fan once the two have a heated exchange.
Stewart, who still moonlights on short tracks, hasn’t run a NASCAR race since November 2016, but he remains visible as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and as the mastermind behind Eldora Speedway. His continued importance begs the question whether this incident will have any type of impact on stock car racing.
Unfortunately, this type of behavior is nothing new for a man who’s had a long, complicated history of losing his cool. Some moments were just silly, like this glove-throwing incident with Kenny Irwin Jr. as a NASCAR Cup Series rookie in 1999.
But at his low point, Stewart’s temper led to controversy and clouded a tragedy that will forever help define him. Stewart, again moonlighting in sprint cars, struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. in a summer 2014 race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Ward had wrecked after battling Stewart, appeared angry with him and was walking toward Stewart’s car when he was struck and killed. Some observers felt Stewart had gunned the engine to scare Ward and intentionally turned toward him with tragic results.
A grand jury ultimately chose not to indict Stewart on manslaughter or negligent homicide but a civil case with the Wards was settled years later for an undisclosed sum. Ward’s mother, Pamela, still feels the punishment should have been much stronger, documented in a November 2018 article for USA Today.
“It really hurts to see him out there enjoying his life when, in my opinion, he should be in jail for manslaughter,” Pamela Ward said of Stewart. “He’s out there racing and enjoying his life every single weekend. That’s something my son would love to be doing, but he’s six feet in the ground because of Tony Stewart.”
No matter the outcome in court, it’s an incident that still weighs heavily on Stewart’s mind, something he’ll never forget the rest of his life. Certainly, as a NASCAR driver, it felt like an emotional blow from which he never truly recovered. The three-time Cup champion won just one race after returning and was out of the sport as a full-time driver two years later.
It was a transition Stewart seemed he truly needed for closure.
“I just want to show up at the races,” the driver said of his retirement, documented by USA Today last November. “Go to the shop, hang out with the guys.”
But Stewart still remains a key owner and decision-maker in a sport who covets his expertise. He’s only age 48 in a sport where the owners who house the 2019 main championship contenders, Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs, are 82 and 78, respectively. A NASCAR in rebuild mode needs a guy like Stewart on the front lines, creating quality racing ideas like what we’ll see Thursday (Aug. 1) at Eldora for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
Public incidents like this one, though, limit his ability to be influential. It puts Stewart in the limelight the week of Eldora for all the wrong reasons, a national story that transcends the sport and feeds into some of NASCAR’s negative perceptions. Think these drivers are just a bunch of wild-swinging rednecks? That leadership can’t get their you-know-what together? Last weekend’s video helps reinforce all of that — regardless of how out of line the fan’s comments were.
Add in the black cloud of Ward’s death, reappearing this same weekend (Watkins Glen) and it leaves Stewart little margin for error in the public eye. It’s a bad look for the sport also approaching a one-year anniversary of former CEO Brian France’s DWI mere days after Chase Elliott won the 2018 race at Watkins Glen.
Did You Notice? … The rarity of Hendrick Motorsports making a crew chief change? Chad Knaus was Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief for 16+ years at HMS. His replacement at the No. 48, Kevin Meendering? He lasted just 21 races.
But it’s not just the short stint that’s surprising here. HMS typically waits until after the season in order to make any type of major personnel move like this one. For instance, there was the infamous press conference called just before Thanksgiving 2010 when three of the four HMS teams switched head wrenches after disappointing seasons. The rumors had been around for months, writing clearly on the wall but everyone committed to finishing out the year.
In fact, this decade an in-season crew chief change has only happened once at HMS. In 2017, with Kahne headed out the door Keith Rodden was replaced by Darian Grubb in the midst of the NASCAR playoffs. Before that, you have to go back to the Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Tony Eury Jr. fiasco in 2009 in order to find this type of major course correction mid-year.
For me, the move serves as a reminder of Johnson’s sense of urgency. As I wrote last week, Johnson is in the midst of a winless slump fellow legendary drivers never recovered from. With possible retirement looming, there’s no guarantee he gets more than two shots at an eighth title. Add in the importance of that postseason streak (15-for-15 in making the playoffs) and there’s no time to waste here. Do it now and see if it sparks a turnaround. After all, this team was never supposed to be in rebuild mode. They’re expected to bring home championships yearly. Incremental change just wasn’t enough.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- The news Richard Childress Racing is looking to place Tyler Reddick in Cup for 2020 should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. His ninth-place finish at Kansas Speedway earlier this season was one of the team’s best, besting current RCR Cup rookie Daniel Hemric outside of Daytona and Talladega until his seventh-place finish at Pocono Sunday. It doesn’t feel like Hemric is in trouble but in a disappointing year for the organization, who knows? With limited sponsorship, anything can happen. We certainly know Austin Dillon isn’t going anywhere….
- Hat tip to our Danny Peters (currently on paternity leave) who pointed out the limited number of playoff points at the top. With five regular season races left, Kyle Busch leads the Cup Series with 28 playoff points; Martin Truex Jr. is second with 22. That’s a lot but far less than the 35 and 33, respectively, Busch and Kevin Harvick had at this point in 2018. More parity at the top will lead to more pressure in the round of 8 this fall as there’s no insurmountable advantage for anyone – at least right now.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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So those that heckle a person to that point are blameless. This was an adult male ….what gives him right. He was there to see how far he push Tony
Mess with the bull you get the horn.
Grow up and act like an adult
anyone who remotely knows stewart or has heard of him knows “don’t poke the snake with a stick”.
tony has remember that idiots abound and there are lots of people looking for their 15 minutes of fame and a possible payoff.
That guy deserved an ass whipping.
“This is a bad look for a sport who has a negative perception of being a bunch of rednecks…”
Who gives a shit. NASCAR isn’t tennis. NASCAR isn’t golf. The fact that Tony Stewart will actually punch you in the mouth if you act up against him is exactly what endeared millions to him. NASCAR doesn’t need corporate drones, NASCAR needs badasses. The type of people who whine about this being a “bad look” are the same type of people who have backed down from every physical altercation in their lives. Bravo Tony, never stop being you.
Ole killer Tony is at it again
Really??! just had to take this down that road huh?
Everyone knows that Tony is excitable. What was said to Tony?
When I was a kid the teacher punished both boys. I thought that was unfair.
In this time of participation trophies, never punish the guy who started the road rage, only the one who reacts to it.
You are suppose to take it, take it all.
Of course it’s different if it happens to you.
Do I think Tony meant to hurt Kevin Ward? Of course not. Was he trying to “Big Time” him? For Sure.
He is one of those guys who likes to play tough guy but is very careful where he picks his spots.
Never had a disagreement with Ryan Newman, David Gilliland. OBTW Tony’s not a bully either.
You would have to really fight to be termed a bully. Tony fights like Red Foxx used to on Sanford and Son
Always plenty of guys around to Hold me back.
“Public incidents like this one, though, limit his ability to be influential”
Maybe as a driver. As an owner, he can get away with much more and still be influential. Remember, part of the reason he retired when he did was as much because he was tired of having to play the PC game drivers are expected to play, as it was in the downturn of his on track productivity (much like Johnson now). I’ve seen owners convicted of felonies and they were still very influential (not just in NASCAR). There is such a thing as “the good old boys club” in all organizations (not just sports) where such bad behavior (there is a limit) is ignored, maybe even expected. It doesn’t hurt that his team has reached the pinnacle of success in the sport either which in itself makes him influential.
If you think this hurts NASCAR in way, you don’t understand NASCAR. Real NASCAR fans love the “good ‘ol boy” antics. Fights in NASCAR go back to the birth of the sport.
We somehow seem to have forgotten that sometimes braying vile loudmouth idiots need punched in the face. We used to be a more civil society when everybody understood that.
Reddick is going to be good in Cup for someone. Wonder if Rick could but out Jimmies last year. Tyler in a good car would be good for the sport. He’s not afraid to mix it up. And dumb dumb will keep grandpa busy finding sponsors for him.
I dont see anything bad about Tony punching this guy out. He deserved it.
Someone curses you after you’ve blown your engine, accuses you of shortchanging the crowd, and then continues after his first outburst? He got what he deserved.
I see a member of the media trying to make hay out of something that is not an issue.
At least this site has the story. NBC and others are avoiding it like the plague, even to the extent of removing comments on it.
Any mention of the brawl that happened recently at baseball game with the Pirates. Ho hum but when it happens at a race track, it is blown up as a bunch of rednecks acting stupid. It is ok at a baseball or football game but not occasionally at a race track.
You forgot to mention the sport with the most fights…. hockey.
I have to point out though that. assuming the heckler was a spectator, it does cross a line that no sport allows. Usually if a player goes after a fan that’s heckling them (not physically assaulting them), they usually get into some kind of trouble if they physically attack a fan, like a fine and suspension. Even if the fan was a total jackass.
Maybe if Tom Bowles was actually a real reporter that reported real facts, instead of creating fiction and writing a hit piece on Tony, he actually might be better known. Guess when you own your own online “fake” NASCAR news company, you can write whatever fiction you want. To me, Tom Bowles is a piece of sh*t that knows nothing about Tony, knows little about NASCAR, and definitely knows nothing about facts.
tony Stewart fan. He’s talented, but spoiled. My issue is with this article. “the mastermind behind Eldora”? Please!
Eldora will always be the house that Earl built!
Admittedly. I’m Tony Stewart fan. He’s talented, but spoiled. My issue is with this article. “the mastermind behind Eldora”? Please!
Eldora will always be the house that Earl built!