Tony Stewart

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Tony Stewart laughs with teammate Bobby Labonte.

Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart (born May 20, 1971), is an auto racing driver who has won championships in sprint cars, Indy cars, and stock cars.


Background

Born in Rushville, Indiana, Stewart grew up racing go karts, highly successfully, winning the world karting championship in 1987. He raced three-quarter midgets for a handful of years before moving up to the USAC series. Stewart was the USAC rookie of the year in 1991, and was the National Midget series champion in 1994.

In 1995, Stewart became the first driver to win USAC's version of the Triple Crown, earning championships in all three of USAC's major divisions, National Midget, Sprint, and Silver Crown.

When he wasn't racing Indy Cars, he raced stock cars. Tony also made a handful of starts in NASCAR's Busch Series that year. In nine races, however, he had only a best finish of 16th place. He had more success in a one-time ride in the Craftsman Truck Series, where he finished 10th.

Tony was poised to improve his IRL standing in 1997, but struggled with finishing at times. He failed to finish the first three races of a ten race schedule, but recovered to finish second in Phoenix. At that year's Indy 500, Stewart had a good enough car to win his first IRL race, as he led 64 laps, but tailed off near the end of the race and settled for 5th. Tony finally got his first career win at Pikes Peak, where he led all but seven laps of a 200 lap race. He became the leading contender for the series' championship after a bad slump knocked points leader Davey Hamilton out of first place. Despite an average end to his season, finishing 7th, 14th, and 11th, and five DNFs, Stewart did just enough to beat Hamilton for the IRL title.

As he had done the previous year, he raced a handful of Busch Series races. This time, he was racing for Joe Gibbs, the former (and current as of 2004) coach of the Washington Redskins who was having a lot of success with driver Bobby Labonte in Winston Cup. When Stewart was able to finish, he was in the top 10, and had a 3rd place in Charlotte. Stewart so impressed Gibbs that he was signed to drive the majority of the Busch schedule in 1998 to go along with a full-time IRL schedule.

The double duty did not affect his performance in either series. In the IRL, he won twice and finished 3rd in the championship. His season was something of a disappointment, especially as he finished last in the Indy 500 because of an engine failure.

On the Busch side, he finished in the top-five five times in 22 starts. He came extremely close to winning his first Busch Series race in Rockingham, but was beaten on a last lap pass by Matt Kenseth. Stewart finished a solid 22nd place in 22 (of 31) starts, ahead of six drivers with more starts, and had an average finish that was comparable to some of the series' top 10 finishers. Gibbs had enough confidence in Tony that he was moved into Cup for the 1999 season. With that move, Stewart ended his three year career as a full time IRL driver.

Winston/Nextel Cup Years

Stewart started his Winston Cup career with a bang, as he qualified his No 20 Home Depot Pontiac in second place in his first Cup race, the Daytona 500. He showed courage in one of the Gatorade Twin 125 races, when involved in a great battle with Dale Earnhardt for the win. The Intimidator came out on top, but Tony had nonetheless impressed quite a few people with his performance. In the 500 itself, Stewart ran near the front until problems with the car relegated him to a midpack finish.

Stewart spent most of his rookie season wowing people, as his car was often in the top 10. He only failed to finish a race once, and even then he finished 9th. He won a pair of pole positions at short tracks, and tied a rookie record with three victories. He finished his first year an unprecedented 4th in points, the highest points finish by a rookie in the modern era (since 1972), and only bested by James Hylton, who finished 2nd as a first-timer in 1966. Not surprisingly, he ran away with the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year award.

Tony also attempted to race 1,100 miles on Memorial Day, as he attempted to race the Indy 500 during the day and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte at night. His attempt at "The Double" was mildly successful, as he finished in the top 10 at both races, but he fell 10 miles short of completing all of the miles.

Stewart showed no signs of a sophomore slump in Winston Cup in 2000, as he won six races. However, he "slipped" to 6th place in the standings because of a handful of DNFs, and an increase in the number of competitive drivers, among them his teammate Labonte, who won the Cup championship. Tony also began to get some bad press for his on-track incidents. The most well known of these came at Watkins Glen, when he and Jeff Gordon tangled and crashed into each other. Stewart made his displeasure towards Gordon known in an obscenity-laden tirade. The two are still heated rivals to this day.

Tony's 2001 got off to a frightening start, as he was involved in a nasty crash in the Daytona 500 where his car violently flipped over several times. Amazingly, he walked away nearly unscathed. He recovered to win three more races, and as he'd done before, ran near the front most of the season. Statistically, he had a worse season than 2000, but he was the runner up to Jeff Gordon for the Cup championship.

The season was not without controversy though. Gordon pulled a "bump and run" on Stewart to gain a better finishing position in a race in Bristol, and it resulted in Tony Stewart retaliating in a post-race incident. Stewart was fined and placed on probation by NASCAR. He got into further trouble at Daytona, when he confronted a Winston Cup official after ignoring a black flag. At the same race, he also got into an incident with a reporter, kicking away a tape recorder. This resulted in another fine and longer probation.

He confronted the same official at the race in Talladega after refusing to wear a mandated head and neck restraint. Stewart was not allowed to practice until wearing one, and only managed to practice after his crew chief intervened. Tony, understandably, earned a reputation for being NASCAR's bad boy.

A more positive highlight of his 2001 season was a second attempt at The Double. This time, he succeeded in racing all 1,100 miles, finishing 6th at Indianapolis and 3rd in Charlotte. It is, to date, Stewart's last attempt to race both races.

Tony started 2002 even more inauspiciously than he'd started his previous season, as his Daytona 500 lasted just two laps due to a blown engine. He won twice early in the season though, but was only 7th at the halfway point of the season. The second half of his season was plagued by an altercation he had with a photographer after the Brickyard 400. NASCAR put Stewart on probation for the rest of the season. Stewart went on to win the race immediately after being disciplined, and went on a tear in the final races, finishing consistently in the top five. At the end of the year, Stewart held off a charging Mark Martin to win his first Winston Cup championship.

As defending champion, Stewart managed to have a relatively incident-free 2003. Driving a Chevrolet instead of his previous Pontiac ride (Gibbs switched), Tony actually had his worst Cup season, but it was still good enough for a 7th place finish in points. He only won twice that season, but led more laps than he'd done the previous year and was highly competitive in the final races of the year.

In addition to his Nextel Cup gig, Stewart, nicknamed "The Columbus Comet" (for his present hometown of Columbus, Indiana) and "Smoke", is also the owner of a World of Outlaws sprint car driven by Danny "The Dude" Lasoski. Stewart has won USAC car owner titles in the Silver Crown division in 2002 and 2003 with J.J. Yeley, and in 2004 with Dave Steele. He also collected owner titles in USAC's National Sprint Car Series with J.J. Yeley in 2003 and Jay Drake in 2004. His current driver lineup in USAC consists of Josh Wise in the midget, sprint, and Silver Crown cars and Jay Drake in the sprint car and Silver Crown Series.

In November of 2004, Stewart became the owner of one of the most legendary short-tracks in America, Eldora Speedway. Located in Rossburg, Ohio, Eldora is a half-mile dirt track known to many as "Auto Racing's Showcase Since 1954." Stewart began racing there in 1991 and continues racing in special events alongside other Nextel Cup drivers and dirt track legends.

He also still makes the occasional cameo on dirt tracks, appearing regularly at an ARCA race on dirt and at many prominent midget car events, USAC's Turkey Night Grand Prix, and the indoor Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.

In 2004, Stewart teamed with Englishman Andy Wallace and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a Boss Motorsports Chevrolet to take fifth place in the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race.

Current season

2005 has been one of Stewart's most successful years in the Nextel Cup. He has won five races, including the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, a race that Stewart said he would give up his championship to win, and took with it the #1 seed headed towards NASCAR's Chase for the Nextel Cup 10-race playoff.

As of November 6, 2005 he is thirty-eight points ahead of #4 seed Jimmie Johnson for first place in the Nextel Cup standings. (ironically, Johnson is sponsored by Lowe's, which is Home Depot's main competitor).

On August 16th Stewart was fined $5000 for hitting the car of another driver, Brian Vickers, after the completion of the Busch Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International. Stewart was driving a Busch series car owned by Kevin Harvick at the time. Stewart was also placed on probation until December 31st. In an apparently unrelated incident, Kyle Busch was also fined $10,000 and placed on identical probation for ramming Anthony Lazzaro's car after the Sirius Satellite Radio race, also at Watkins Glen.

Stewart has, following his second win of the season, begun a tradition of climbing the fence seperating the fans from the racetrack after each victory. This has led to amusing moments when he has found himself unable to fully climb the fence due to exhaustion, or in his own words, being "too fat for this."

It also led to sponsor Home Depot cashing on Stewart's success with some promotions reminiscent of Stewart's Eldora Speedway drivers. After his second full climb of the fence in Loudon, NH, they ran a discount on ladders and fencing at the stores with a campaign named, "Hey Tony, we've got ladders," where anyone who presented the advertisement in national newspapers in their stores earned the discount. After his Allstate victory, Home Depot presented fans who presented the advertisement of his Allstate 400 win with a discount on purchasing bricks.

He mentioned in a press release from his sponsor, "I plan to keep winning races and helping to drive down the cost of home improvement for The Home Depot customers."

Races Won

Nextel Cup (23 career wins)

Busch Series (1 career win)

Craftsman Truck Series (2 career wins)

In addition to his 3 wins in the Indy Racing League, Stewart has also won 2 International Race of Champions events.

External links

pt:Tony Stewart