Loss of passion, not skills, behind driver’s retirement

Perhaps Tony Stewart needs to come home to Columbus so that he can find his passion.

In what is expected to be a sad announcement Wednesday, Stewart reportedly will tell the world of his planned driving retirement from NASCAR Sprint Cup racing following the 2016 season.

I’m sure he will talk about his advancing age, changes in NASCAR rules that has decreased horsepower and catered to a different style of driving, and even the devastating leg injury he suffered at Southern Iowa Speedway in 2013.

What he won’t discuss due to an impending civil lawsuit will be the Aug. 9, 2014, accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that resulted in the death of 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr.

It is that incident that understandably has robbed the three-time NASCAR driving champ of the joy he took to his job each and every day.

Standing in Stewart’s garage in May of 2013, I listened to him bubble over with enthusiasm when he talked about his black 1978 Pontiac Trans-Am. It had nothing to do with money or championships.

It was all about the thrill of speed and the machinery that creates it.

That Tony Stewart wasn’t far removed from the little kid who carved his talents driving go-karts at local tracks. That Tony Stewart has been lost.

Which brings us back to his need to come home.

Before the Brickyard 400, Stewart noted that he had spent only eight days in 2015 at his Columbus home, as opposed to the residence he keeps in Huntersville, North Carolina, so that he can help run Stewart-Haas Racing with Gene Haas.

An obvious sadness was evident as he spoke, and he noted it was something that he was going to change.

Many of us, when we suffer a personal tragedy, withdraw into the comfort of family. It would seem that Stewart has attempted to work his way through the trauma he has suffered, without positive results.

Being embraced by this community might, indeed, help.

Since we can’t walk around in his shoes, we certainly can’t identify with the pain of being associated with a fatal accident. I guess the best thing we could do would be to help him move forward.

My own words to Stewart would be to take a look at the two accidents that might have led to Wednesday’s decision. Both small dirt tracks, both times coming around a very tight corner, both times unable to avoid an accident.

If you look at Stewart’s accident at Southern Iowa Speedway, where Stewart plowed into a disabled car on the track and very well could have died if his injuries were slightly more severe, you might think he didn’t do anything to avoid the accident.

The truth is that there was nothing he could do.

Was that the same situation when he came around the corner and Ward was standing on the track? Michael Tantillo, the Ontario County District Attorney, said investigations showed that it was.

Tantillo told the media that investigations that included studying two videos of the incident showed “no aberrational driving by Tony Stewart.”

Due to legal actions, we haven’t been able to hear Stewart go into detail about what he saw that night in upstate New York. One day, we might.

Until then, we might be watching a Tony Stewart who can’t find the spark that turned him into one of the world’s top drivers. Many of us probably thought that he would eventually heal, and get it back.

Whether he tries in the future or not is unclear. At 44 years old, Stewart has lots of time to regain his driving edge in a sport where drivers have had success racing into their 50s.

Wednesday’s announcement could bring to an end that attempt. And, yet, it’s hard to believe that Stewart won’t have something left in the tank beyond the 2016 season.

No matter what transpires Wednesday, I wouldn’t wave the checkered flag on Stewart’s driving career quite yet. I imagine that a lot of his fans in Columbus feel the same way.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.