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Racecar drivers generally age gracefully, slowly fading into the sunset of their careers. First, maybe they go a season or two without a win. Then, they seem to find accidents more regularly. Maybe they end up in lesser equipment, a victim of a sport that is all about the next big thing. We’ve all seen it – Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte – all gradually progressed from championship winner to backmarker over a course of many racing seasons. It’s impossible to put a finger on the exact date these guys lost their competitive edge. That is why I find it so hard to believe Tony Stewart has reached the end of his career. No one suddenly forgets how to drive.
Stewart, if you didn’t know, is currently 35th in points, the lowest of any driver who has raced all four races this season. His best finish this year is 30th. He hasn’t finished on the lead lap since last November. Twice this year he crashed after making uncharacteristic errors. All this from Smoke – the man who a few years ago most fans considered the most talented driver in the Sprint Cup Series.
Of course there are plenty of theories about Stewart’s recent poor results: That he never recovered from a broken leg in a sprint car accident two years ago, that he is still mentally anguished over his involvement in last year’s accident that killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr., that he has too much on his plate as a team leader, series promoter and track owner. But Stewart has always thrived on proving critics wrong. He usually shines in moments of adversity. He is one of the few Cup racers to ever win a championship as an owner/driver. He is the only Cup driver to migrate from the Indy Car series and find success. This year’s performance doesn’t match what we all know about Tony – he is a ferocious competitor.
I truly believe Stewart will return to win his winning ways this season. His cars are good – teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch proved that last weekend. Racing is a mental sport, and Tony will have a breakthrough soon. All it will take is one good run to get our generation’s A.J. Foyt back on the right footing. It is way too soon to panic – there is still plenty of racing left to do.