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Now that the dust has settled on the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series I wanted to take a stab at explaining just why many Smoke fans including myself feel that Tony wasn’t given the farewell season he deserved.

(photo source: @StewartHaasRcng Twitter account)

When Tony announced his “retirement” (and I use that term loosely because I am sure that he will race more this year than he did last year) he made it absolutely clear that he did not want the rigmarole that Jeff Gordon was given week in and week out. He didn’t want to be drug into the media center every weekend and presented with gifts ranging from the thoughtful to the truly bizarre (not that he escaped that- since he got a bigger than life-size bobble head of himself from Texas Motor Speedway). All Tony wanted to do in his last season is what Tony has wanted to do since he got behind the steering wheel of his first goKart- he wanted to buckle in and race. And for the most part that is what he got.

His fans, however, voiced their discontent all season long about the lack of Tony recognition. Some might be thinking, well he got what he asked for.  While I don’t think what a majority of fans wanted was Tony paraded through the media center pulling gifted ponies and poker tables behind him- they wanted something.

What the fans wanted, expected, hoped for were the things they saw tracks doing the year before with Jeff Gordon. Fans wanted the opportunity to feel engaged and made to feel that not just that their driver was recognized but that they had a part in that recognition.  Case in point: I have no fewer than three Jeff Gordon towels each from different tracks that were dispersed to fans during the 2015 season for fans to wave during lap 24. I went to one race more in 2016 and I don’t have any Tony Stewart towels. Fans wanted to see things like a race named after him like Phoenix did for Jeff Gordon.  They wanted to see Speed Limit 14 MPH when the drove around Las Vegas Motor Speedway although that would be a pretty damn slow speed limit and technically Tony wasn’t driving at Las Vegas because of his back injury. You get my drift though.

Some tracks did do things for Tony fans. Some had Tony’s likeness gracing program covers, posters, and even a coveted (normal sized) bobbleheads. But subtle signs on backstretches, wall of fame presentations and a rock in his honor not withstanding tributes denoting Tony and engaging fans in celebrating their driver were actually far and few between at the track.  Fans at home missed out too- many times lap 14 was not even televised let alone mentioned showing fans standing in celebration of their beloved driver.  They wanted Tony mentioned occasionally during races despite his less than stellar performances most races.

Ultimate what was missing for Tony’s NASCAR fans was the sense of community that the track promoters and sponsors created during Jeff Gordon’s farewell season. Sure they can claim it is what Tony wanted but what he wanted was to be subjected to constant distraction. What Tony fans wanted and perhaps needed by and large could have been done without going against Tony’s wishes. THAT is why SMOKE fans feel slighted by the treatment of Tony’s retirement.

(For those not aware- a little over a year ago I undertook a project here on BadGroove that we lovingly called Project Smoke In My Eyes.  The concept started out as a way for fans to submit their own stories about Tony Stewart and ended up being put into a book that is currently on it’s way to Tony for delivery sometime in December.  The book is pages of fans stories about Tony Stewart. While I was compiling the submissions I worked on creating my own submission for the book.  I went through several versions and finally at the end of my own self-imposed deadline came up with the following. It appears as the last entry in the Smoke In My Eyes book- the only thing behind it being The End- But Really Just The Beginning.—- AMY)

This is what seems like my one millionth attempt at writing my own entry for “Smoke In My Eyes.” My most recent previous attempt was pages and pages of me waxing on poetically but as I edited it, I realized that while it said a lot- it wasn’t actually what I wanted to say.

Mostly what I want to say is thank you Tony. (more…)

(photo source: Zimbio.com/Sarah Crabill/Getty Images North America)

Start: 25th

Finish: 15th

Points: 2192 (15th in points)

(photo source: zimbio.com/Sean Gardner/Getty Images North America)

Dear Phoenix- it had been too long. I hadn’t been at your track since November of 2014 and I forgot why I love you so much. Last year I forsake you to attend my first race in Homestead-Miami because Jeff Gordon was retiring and since it’s so close to the Phoenix race there was no way I could attend both.  This year- I thought I would miss you. I had decided in the shadow of my driver Tony Stewart retiring to attend my first and his last Brickyard 400 at IMS. I assumed that I would again forgo Phoenix. For no other reason than for me to drive the crazy trek to Phoenix is a taxing one- first to Vegas to pick up my friend which is about 500 miles door -to-door from where I live and usually takes me between 7 and 8 hours. The drive from Vegas to Phoenix is another nearly 5 hours. That’s a lot of time in a car- to then have to turn around and do the same thing in reverse order the Monday and Tuesday after the race.  Especially when you consider I would likely be doing the same thing just a few weeks later for Champions Week in Vegas (minus the trip to Phoenix). But then I got a text from Misty asking if I wanted to do something a little bit crazy. See when we went to Indiana for the Brickyard we were caught up in the major meltdown Southwest suffered when it had issues with it’s reservation software in late July. Our outgoing flight to Indianapolis was cancelled with 3 hours notice (not delayed but CANCELLED completely).  Despite the stress of us having to figure our own way out to Indiana (because if we stayed with Southwest they MIGHT be able to get us to Indiana on Saturday when we were suppose to be there on Thursday) on another carrier who was more than willing to get us there on Friday- Southwest gave us vouchers for flights to prove they can indeed provide us with the service we expected.  Misty’s crazy idea was for me to drive to Vegas and then together we would hop a flight from Vegas to Phoenix stay just long enough to see the race and then fly back to Vegas and I could drive back to my central coast home.  That flight ended up being approximately 45 minutes.  And let me tell you it was worth every penny. Flying was so so much easier than the long, desolate desert drive between Vegas and Phoenix that I since have a hard time seeing myself doing that drive again.  Ever. (more…)

(photo source: Zimbio.com/Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)

Start: 23rd

Finish: 31st, 5 laps down

Points: 2166 (14th in points)

Ahh you have heard the saying everything is bigger in Texas right? Well that is also true of the NASCAR race- because was was suppose to be an afternoon race stretched into a HUGE rain delay…and then a rain shortened race.  When it started to rain right after the drivers got in and all buckled up there was a lengthy (six hour) rain delay.

Way to stick it out Texas race fans by the way. Rain delay coverage was the usual…I don’t know if they talked about it during the coverage- because I actually left the house for a bit when it was clear that the race wouldn’t restart for at least another couple hours and that was the Team Hendrick pit crews doing the Mannequin Challenge (where you hold still like a mannequin). You can see it here on the Hendrick Motorsports website. I thought that was awesome- it can not be easy to hold those poses like that.

When they finally called the drivers to their cars at just after 7:00 pm local time- I started to get excited. Then we watched the longest warm up laps in recent memory as the drivers ran around the track for twenty something laps before the race trying to help dry the track. Then the race started under a Green/Yellow as that continued for several laps until the track was finally deemed dry enough and the cars were allowed to race.  (more…)

(photo source: zimbio.com/Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America)

Start: 6th

Finish: 26th, 4 laps down

Points: 2156 (14th in points)

Tony’s weekend started out with awesome practices and a solid qualifying effort but unfortunately it didn’t end up so swell. After the first caution when a majority of the field pitted and Tony’s team did not he ended up falling back in the field to fresher tires.  The car sustained damage when Ryan Blaney came across the nose of Tony’s car as well. Between battling a car that wouldn’t turn and the loss of track position he was unable to make up any ground and eventually ended up loosing laps to the leader and finishing 26th. Tony was discouraged. The team was discouraged. The fans were discouraged. It wasn’t the best of weekends so why dwell on it I say. (more…)

(photo source: zimbio.com/Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

Start: 21st

Finish: 32nd

Points: 2141 (14th in points)

For Talladega- the race on Sunday was fairly uneventful and that was a good thing.  The big one never came- just a few medium to small sized incidents that did little damage- unlike the big melee during the truck race the day before with 34 laps to go.

(Source: Tony Stewart Official Store Facebook)

Tony dropped to the back of the pack after the drop of the green flag and stayed there for the entire race. When – by chance of caution he was in packs of cars he again would drop back until he was in a smaller group of people whom he trusted.  The plan was to move forward if they thought there would be a chance at gaining position with relatively little danger of being ensnared in “the big one” however even towards the very end of the race Tony radioed in and said that he felt there was something still brewing and he wasn’t going to push it to move forward.  While a couple of smallish accidents happened towards the end of the race- Tony was never really able to climb forward because of the restarts and finished his day 32nd. It was a craps shoot to stay in the back just as much as it was a craps shoot to get up in the main fruckus and possibly get wiped out by someone else’s problem.

I have seen a lot of people online complaining that what the Gibbs cars (minus Denny who took his chances at the front of the pack)  did and what Tony did wasn’t racing.  But wasn’t it? It was a strategic move to keep themselves and their cars safe and it worked well for Gibbs. Why? Because half of the Round of 8 are the four Gibbs cars. So it didn’t work out too well for Tony- but at least he was running at the end of  the race on the lead lap and wasn’t on his way home with nothing but a crumpled mess of car sitting in the Hauler waiting to go back to North Carolina. I have long been of the stance that racing at Talladega and Daytona is dangerous. I don’t know if it’s because of the speeds they run on the high banks, or if it’s due to the restrictor plates putting the cars so close together on the track- but one person messes up and you are in someone else’s mess. Because of the speeds at the superspeedways I am ALWAYS concerned about injury during accidents. Yes I know that those cars are safe- but after seeing two freak accidents injure Tony Stewart (none of which were in Sprint Cup Stock cars) how can I not worry that the intense speeds and “big one” type collisions during these super speedway races will cause a freak accident type injury that severely injures a driver.  Besides- wasn’t it a wreck at Talladega that landed Ryan Newman on his lid on the backstretch several years ago- and he ended up with several cracked teeth because of it?  Minor injury yes but still an injury.  For the possible injury reason alone I can not blame a driver from shying away from running mid-pack when all they have is a mid-pack car. Then you have the cost of the wreck because a lot of times when you wreck at Talladega you wreck big. That’s money out of the owners pockets both in destroyed equipment in addition to any possible purse money depending on where the driver might have finished had the car just suffered a minor ding and gone to the garage to fix it. Therefore it does not surprise me nor do I think it’s cheating or not racing when a team wants to move all or some of it’s cars to be the back to be “safe” when they are in contention for a championship, during an elimination race.  That is just strategy and it will work some times and bite you other times (just ask Tony). (more…)

(photo source: Tony Stewart Facebook)

Start: 14th

Finish: 16th

Points: 2131 (13th in points)

The race in Kansas started out with a good omen for driver Tony Stewart: he was driving the number 14 car, was housed in garage number 14 in the garage area at Kansas and ended up qualifying 14th.  That’s a whole lot of 14 right?

(photo source: Tony Stewart Facebook)

At the drop of the green flag Tony started flying up the field and cracked the top ten within 10 laps.  He reported that the balance was pretty much the same as it had been in practice and it was pretty good. The team did a great first pit stop and no penalties left him in the top ten. By lap 59 he had moved up into 6th place by passing Joey Logano when Tony exclaimed that it was “fun out here.”

Not that I could hear him well. I couldn’t. The static on Tony’s radio from the NASCAR Mobile ap was so terrible it actually hurt my ears to listen and there were times that I would take it out. It would have periods of being better, less staticy but then it would get bad again.  So I missed about half of what went on on the radio. About the time he passed Joey Logano he wanted his spotter to let whom I assume is Joey’s spotter that “he’ll play nice if he does.” Like I said that is what it sounded like anyway because I had a heck of time hearing.

Unfortunately after the laps started to tick away the handling on the Code 3 Associates Chevy went away too and Tony slowly started dropping back as the handing went away.  The team would work on the car during the pitstops but it just didn’t seem to make too big of a difference and I was beginning to think he was going to be lucky to get a top 20 finish but after the last major pit stop of the day- it seemed to turn a corner and Tony was able to gain a few positions and finished the race 16th.   His teammate Kevin Harvick had a great day however and was able to bring home the checkers for his friend/owner Tony Stewart.  This locked Kevin Harvick into advancing into the round of 8 with Jimmie Johnson.

Oh and Tony had another awesome helmet on for the Kansas Weekend:

 

(photo source: Tony Stewart facebook)

While in Kansas Code 3 Associates founder Nan Stuart presented Tony with a plaque commemorating their partnership and sponsorship:

(photo credit: Code 3 Associates facebook)

Here is a great article about Tony Stewart that came out of the Kansas Race weekend by Darron Cummings for the Kansas City Star: Tony Stewart bidding farewell to NASCAR, but he’s not finished racing.

Also- I hope Alex Bowman (who was driving the 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr) is feeling better. After the race Dale tweeted out a picture of poor Alex in the infield care center hooked up to an IV- apparently he was suffering from a bug all day yet still drove his heart out:

@DaleJr: The Showman @AlexBRacing did good today. Top 10 with a stomach bug. @nationwide88 guys gave him a great car. (Image Source: Dale Earnhardt Jr Twitter)

Next week…I will be watching through my fingers because it’s Talladega!

Gratuitous Tony Stewart Pictures:

There is just something about this picture that I love:

(Photo Source: Zimbio.com/Jason Hanna/Getty Images North America)

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#SmokeAlwaysRises #AlwaysRac14g

(photo source: Tony Stewart Official Store Facebook)

Started: 15

Finished: 13th

Points: 13th (2074 points)

When Sunday came I found myself in a quandary. I wanted  to watch the race as I usually do on race day but a big part of me didn’t want to watch the race at Dover. Why? It was the stress of it being the last race before the cut to the round of 12.  I understand that NASCAR things that these elimination rounds are exciting to watch but I find this chase format to be exponentially more nerve racking than any other chase format. Especially when at the start of the race your driver is ranked 15th out of the 16 chasers and only the top 12 advance to the next round of the NASCAR playoffs known only as The Chase.  Oh and did I mention it’s Dover? The high banked concrete track can be unforgiving and Miles the Monster (the track mascot that adorns the trophy) looked hungry. (more…)