Stewart is like an old-timer | NevadaAppeal.com

Stewart is like an old-timer

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Tony Stewart, who has been quoted as saying he would trade his NASCAR Cup championship for a win at Indy, didn’t have to swap anything for that victory last Sunday.

He earned it, fair and square. Stewart, as I’ve said in this space before, may just be the best American race driver of the current crop. He has won in Sprint Cars, Midgets, Indy Cars, and has turned in a couple of race-winning performances in the Daytona 24-hour road race before being let down by his equipment.

Not only that, but the guy is a throwback to the old-time racers, unlike the buttoned-down corporate robots that most modern drivers have become. Case in point: After his Indy win last Sunday, a reporter asked Stewart if he planned to keep his Brickyard-winning car for his race-car collection.

The response was pure Tony Stewart. “I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but Zippy told me Sue Nardelli (wife of Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli) wants to give it to Bob as a surprise. I told Zippy if he gives her that car, I’ll kick him in the nuts.”

When the assembled media throng laughed, Stewart repeated his threat. “I’m serious. I told him I’d kick him in the nuts if he gives her that car.” How can you not like a guy like that?

While Stewart is probably staying put at Joe Gibbs Racing, other drivers are looking for greener pastures. It’s still not entirely clear whether Jamie McMurray will make the hop from Ganassi Racing to Roush Racing in 2006, and whether Kurt Busch will get an early release from his Roush contract (which still has a year to run) to move to Penske South Racing.

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With Michael Waltrip already in play, and Jason Leffler just released by Joe Gibbs, this could be the most interesting “silly season” for NASCAR in many years. If McMurray and Busch make their moves for the 2006 season, the dominoes could begin to fall throughout the garage area.

The problem is that with so many of the sport’s mainstay drivers retiring (Terry Labonte, Bill Elliot, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, etc.), the talent pool of proven pilots is dwindling. Teams can either try to pirate a star away from a competitor, or take a chance with an untried youngster. Of course, some of those untried youngsters (the Busch brothers, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, etc.) have turned out pretty well. Others haven’t.

Champ Car star Paul Tracy tested a Richard Childress Nextel Cup Chevrolet at Michigan last week, and came away one step closer to a career change. Of course, as Tracy himself was quick to acknowledge, testing is one thing, racing with 42 other cars is an entirely different proposition. Tracy will attempt to qualify for next Sunday’s Michigan race, and will have to make the field on speed because the 33 car does not have a guaranteed spot.

“Qualifying and finishing in the top-20 and on the lead lap would be like winning the race,” said Tracy. “I haven’t even run around anyone here yet. There are 43 other cars out there, so it will be very different.”

Rumor has it that Tracy has been offered a 2006 contract by both Champ Car owner Gerry Forsythe and by Childress. My question is, with Tracy’s extensive road-racing background, why didn’t Childress put him in a car for today’s Watkins Glen race?

Last weekend I gave a brief synopsis of the Outlaw Kart and TT motorcycle activities taking place at Thunder Bowl Speedway in Mound House. I subsequently spoke directly with track owner Charlie Brandenburg, who quashed rumors of the track being paved. I had picked up rumblings that this might happen in order to give local asphalt drivers a place to race, but Charlie said he’s had no serious offers along that line.

Quite the contrary, he plans to run a dirt stock car division on the big 1/3 mile oval next season. Plans are to adapt IMCA rules and run a “Bomber” class to start with. If that’s successful, other race divisions, possibly including Modifieds, will added Brandenburg. Stock cars ran at the Thunder Bowl track in its first two years of operation, but have not been back since.