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When Tony Stewart retires, NASCAR will have a big void to fill

Posted On Monday, 28 September 2015 20:00 Written by
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"It's never gonna happen."
If you had told me a few years ago that NASCAR's Tony Stewart would be retired from the Sprint Cup series career as soon as 2017, that would have been my response.

Tony Stewart loves racing more than anything, I would have said, and he will be here as long as he can compete -- possibly longer.
But of course, that's not the case. On Wednesday, Stewart is expected to announce that he will be competing in his final season in the Cup series in 2016, with Clint Bowyer expected to take over behind the wheel of the 14 car starting in 2017 (no 2016 stopover destination for Bowyer has yet been announced).

My reaction to Stewart's impending exit from the sport?: I'll be sad to see him go, as he was one of the best personalities on the circuit and not your typical vanilla sponsor-lister like so many drivers. But at the same time, I'm happy for him that he is willing to step away and I totally understand why he is doing it.

We all know that Tony Stewart has been through a lot of hard times in the past few years -- Between injuries that kept him out of the car for extended periods of time, and worst of all the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. at a sprint car race in New York.

The circumstances of that incident are about as tragic as it gets; a young man approaching the field of moving race cars, and suffering the worst possible consequence as a result. For his family it's the worst tragedy they can experience, and for Tony Stewart that night has to be a constant presence in his mind. He has to think to himself at times: "Could I have done anything differently?", and that's not easy for any soul to take.

So with all of that on his mind, combined with the fact that he hasn't exactly been running up front lately (he's back in the mid-20s in points this year), I don't blame Tony Stewart for being content with his three championships (including a thrilling Chase dominance in 2011) and going home.

Tony Stewart will still race -- you can bet on that. Like many of the old-timers at local tracks around America, you'll probably see Tony driving sprint cars and late models until he's old and gray -- it's what he loves to do. Racing is Tony Stewart and Tony Stewart is racing.
And all the pageantry and duties of a Sprint Cup driver -- from sponsor duties to the long weekends and heavy travel schedule -- aren't something Tony Stewart really needs in his life anymore. He's made his money (and will continue to make some more as part owner of Stewart-Haas Racing), and can now focus on what he loves -- the racing.

Once he retires from NASCAR racing, he can build his own race cars, drive them at local tracks, work with young drivers, maybe even watch some racing at his own Eldora track or elsewhere. That's not a bad life, and the reality is Tony Stewart has nothing left to prove to anyone in the racing world. He's been there and done it all.

Between all of his recent hardships and his struggle to adjust to newer NASCAR packages, it just makes sense for Tony to move on to the next phase of his life and career.

Tony will always be remembered as one of the best drivers in NASCAR history. When he arrived in NASCAR from Indycar (where he won the 1997 Indycar championship -- something many people forget), many doubted his ability to succeed in stock cars. He quickly proved them wrong, and went on to show that he was in the vein of A.J. Foyt -- a "pure racer" who can be fast in just about any type of vehicle they compete in; someone with the skill and knowledge of how to get around a track that goes beyond the machine.

Today there are maybe a few of those on the track (Kyle Busch is one who comes to mind, maybe a couple others), but Tony has set a standard that all current drivers should strive to match.

I'm happy for Smoke as he prepares to move on, but it's very clear that NASCAR will have a large hole to fill once he is gone.


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Matt Myftiu can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., found and can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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