Motorsports Insider: Same old Tony Stewart reappears, for better and for worse

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Series updates Sprint Cup Burton out: Veteran driver Jeff Burton announced he is stepping out of the seat of the No. 31 for RCR at the end of the season, a year earlier than planned, and said he has no plans to race next year. Burton, in the 31 since 2005, has won 21 times in 680 starts over a 21-year career. Five-year high: Kyle Busch picked up his fourth win last weekend, giving him his best year since 2008, when he won eight times. He’ll enter the Chase no worse than the third seed. No. 1 right now: Matt Kenseth’s five victories would make him the No. 1 seed in the Chase, as long as Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson do not also win their fifth races this week. New driver: JTG Daugherty Racing hired AJ Allmendinger as its full-time driver for next year in the No. 47. He is subbing for Bobby Labonte, who has three broken ribs, the rest of this year. Nationwide Milestone: The series is holding its 1,000th race this weekend. In its two-decades-plus, the series has had 136 winners and 23 champions. Elliott Sadler is running a paint scheme this weekend honoring the first winner, Jack Ingram. Bigger lead: Sam Hornish Jr. extended his lead over Austin Dillon from six points to 10 by finishing third last weekend. Camping World Truck Young uns: Chase Elliott’s victory last week made him the series’ youngest winner at 17 years, nine months and four days. Ryan Blaney was 18 years, eight months and 15 days when he won at Iowa last year. Fine time: Mike Skeen’s crew chief, Bryan Berry, was fined $2,500, and Skeen’s girlfriend, Kelly Heaphy, was fined $2,500 and barred indefinitely from races after last weekend’s incidents. Heaphy slapped Max Papis, who had gotten into a wreck with Skeen. Berry was held responsible for the actions of the race team members. 9 Victories for Joe Gibbs Racing this year, the most in Sprint Cup, including two in the last two weeks with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. They said it “The championship is No. 1 on anybody’s list. You want to be the best in your realm of racing. I’m a NASCAR driver. I want to win a championship. I’ve yet to collect the big prize. One of these days, it will happen. Maybe it’ll be 2013. Hopefully, it is.” — Kyle Busch

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What did Tony Stewart learn about himself while he’s been laid up with a broken leg?

“I don’t know that I learned much.… I pretty much knew already that I could sleep 20 hours out of a 24-hour day going into this,” he said.

And with that, the reporters who flocked to Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters on Tuesday for Stewart’s first media appearance since he broke his leg in a sprint car race in Iowa three weeks ago, knew it was the same old Tony Stewart.

He hadn’t changed.

“I actually miss you guys,” he said. “Which tells you that I’m not healthy yet.”

Still cracking jokes.

But he is now more serious about the consequences of running as many races as he can. He’s going to slow it down, he promised, although not necessarily because of the accident, which has ended his season and eliminated any chance of him competing for a fourth Sprint Cup championship.

The extra racing, he said, was all just getting to be a bit too much, no matter how much pride he took in it.

“I’m definitely going to cut back the amount of races, just on scheduling purposes more than anything,” he said. “I was starting to tell I was getting a little bit tired around Brickyard time, and we had the truck race [at Eldora] that week, which was a lot of stress, and we had a lot of races scheduled in the two weeks prior to that.”

Stewart understands what his absence means, although he notes that no one in the company missed a paycheck because of his accident.

He reinforced his belief that extra racing is a hobby for him, that he wants to do it because he enjoys it, and that if something happens, it happens.

“It’s just life, guys. Things happen every day,” he said. “… You’ve got to live life. You can’t spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion, you’ve wasted your time. We are all here a short amount of time in the big picture, and I’m somebody that wants to live life. I’m not somebody that wants to sit there and say, I’ve got to guard against this and I’ve got to worry about that.”

Besides, Stewart says he is being as responsible as the next guy.

“If I got in a race car and didn’t wear a helmet and didn’t wear seat belts, then that would be dangerous, and that’s being foolish,” Stewart said. “We don’t do that. But I’m going to go live my life. I’m going to take full advantage of whatever time I’ve got on this earth. I’m going to ride it out to the fullest and I’m going to get my money’s worth; you can bet your butt on that.”

Chase scenarios

Four drivers control their own destiny this weekend. That is, they can clinch a spot in the Chase regardless of what any other driver does.

They are:

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who can clinch a spot in the Chase by finishing 32nd or better, or 33rd with a lap led or 34th with the most laps led.

Joey Logano, who can clinch with an 11th place, or a 12th and a lap led or a 13th and the most laps led.

Greg Biffle, who needs a ninth place, or a 10th and a lap led or an 11th and the most laps led.

And Kurt Busch, who needs to win, or finish second with a lap led or third with the most laps led.

Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray can all still finish in the top 10. Kahne has clinched at least a wild card. Gordon, Truex and Newman can clinch at least wild cards with a victory.

Keselowski, McMurray and Paul Menard need to win and have help. Lots of help.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez

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