OCALA, Fla. — As I was surfing social media on Sunday morning after the revelation that Tony Stewart had withdrawn from the All Star Circuit of Champions finale at Bubba Raceway Park the night before, I saw a lot of “fans” throwing shade at ‘Smoke’ for his actions and for not competing in front of a packed house Saturday night.
I’m here with the following message: shut up and let the man race his race. (Pun intended.)
By that, of course, I mean that everyone who’s whining and complaining needs to leave well enough alone. It’s Tony’s life and he needs to be able to make his own decisions without being scrutinized under a microscope and raked over the coals every other minute of the day.
Do I understand that there was a lot of promotion at and around Bubba Raceway Park in regards to Tony racing this weekend?
Absolutely I do. But that was largely driven from the outside, and not by Tony himself.
Do I understand that there are plenty of fans that likely couldn’t get off of work for the Thursday or Friday night shows in Ocala, and that they came on Saturday expecting to be able to watch Smoke race, but were disappointed after his decision to load the car up before engine warm-ups had even begun?
Of course I do. And it’s their right to be disappointed.
But, in the same vein, everyone should be glad he was there at all and at least ran the first two nights. Comments that Tony somehow “owed it to the fans” to race the third night are completely uncalled for.
I’ve been told by several people in attendance that they’d have liked to have seen Tony at least stay and sign a few autographs after the load-up process on Saturday, and I can respect that point of view.
But at the end of the day, it’s Tony Stewart’s life, and regardless of whether any of us agree with the circumstances or the decision, everyone needs to respect that.
If Tony had had it his way, I imagine that there likely wouldn’t have been any promotion of his return, because he doesn’t and didn’t want all the pomp and circumstance and flare around his return to dirt track racing in the first place. He said as much in a press conference last month at Ford Performance’s technical center in Concord, N.C.
“I think we’re just going to drop in for a while now,” Stewart said of whether fans would know where he’d be racing on any given night.
“I like it on the nights that fans know we’re going because we get to see fans passionate about what we did on the Cup side, but at the same time, it makes it more hectic in the pit area to do our job, and right now, I just want to get back to used to driving the race cars again.”
That’s what he was trying to do this weekend, and he was doing a reasonable job of it, in my opinion.
Having to transfer out of a B-Main on Thursday in a 38-car field, alongside the defending All Stars champion, and successfully doing so? That’s no small feat.
That should show the quality of the field this past weekend — a field that had some top World of Outlaws talent in it in addition to that All Stars regulars — that Chad Kemenah and the title-winning Hunter Racing team were starting alongside Stewart in that last chance race.
The fact that Tony still made it into the big dance, and then advanced several positions in the main event to finish 17th — that should say something.
Yes, he had a little bit more of an obscure go of things on Friday night, finishing 20th in a very non-descript performance, but he was still getting comfortable. He was still re-learning the feel of the car and what he needed. There’s no shame in that.
But for people to say that the reason he stepped out of the car on Saturday was because he “didn’t have it” and decided to “give up”? Are you kidding me? I refuse to name any names, but I saw comments implying those exact things in several places on social media this weekend, and it made me sick to my stomach.
I’ve met Tony several times, both at NASCAR events and at some of the short track races he’s run in recent years. I had the privilege of interviewing him one-on-one at the Rumble in Fort Wayne indoor midget races in December of 2013, and got to talk with him on several things off-camera.
But in everything I asked him, and in everything he gave me as answers, his drive was as clearly present as ever.
Tony Stewart is not a man who quits. He’s a never-say-die, tough-as-nails competitor.
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