For all the hype surrounding Tony Stewart’s final Sprint Cup race, the Columbus native is taking a low-key approach.
Stewart, who announced last year that this season would be his final one on America’s biggest and most popular racing circuit, will make what could be his final ride in a stockcar in today’s Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami (Florida) Speedway.
His approach will be much the same as it has been all season during his farewell tour.
“We didn’t want all the ceremony and distraction this year,” Stewart said in a news release. “We just wanted to focus on the racecar and run well and let the NASCAR fans see us race a final time.”
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Stewart’s 49 Sprint Cup victories rank 13th all-time, and his three Sprint Cup titles tie him for fifth all-time. He also has 11 wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, six in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, three in IndyCar and four in IROC and has won IndyCar and IROC championships.
That’s on top of all the dirt track races Stewart has won since he was a kid racing go-karts at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds. Next year, Stewart plans to return to his dirt-track roots.
“You’re going to see me driving a lot next year, but most of it will be on dirt,” Stewart said. “I kind of look at this as halftime of my career and I’ll still be around the NASCAR garage. I’ll just have more time. If I see Richard Petty or anyone else in the garage, I can go over and talk to him now and not have to worry about getting to the car or trying to figure out how to make my car go faster. I can focus now on what I want to do and my job at SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing.)”
Stewart will remain as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, where Clint Bowyer will replace him as a driver. Stewart also has a World of Outlaws team and owns Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
There are races and places that Stewart wants to go to that he hasn’t been able to go to because of his NASCAR schedule.
“It’s not like I have a great vacation I want to go do” he said. “I am so mental about racing that everything I want to do has racing in it. There are races and events I haven’t seen — as a fan, spectator — and some I even want to race in. It’s nice to have some flexibility.”
One thing Stewart has done that will highlight his finale today is to honor his employees on his car’s paint scheme. The No. 14 contains each Stewart-Haas employee’s signature, with the words “Always a Racer, Forever a Champion,” as well as pictorial highlights of his 18-year career on the hood.
About 75 Stewart-Haas guests will be on hand to watch his final Sprint Cup race.
While Stewart’s final season won’t end in his fourth title — he was eliminated from the Chase after the first round — he did pick up a victory this season at Sonoma, California. He has had five top-five and eight top-10 finishes this season.
“Before the season started, we said our only goal was to go out and have fun,” Stewart said. “Anything else would be icing on the cake.”
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Ford Ecoboost 400, 2:30 p.m. (NBC)
Starting position: (qualifying Friday)
Finished 15th in Can-Am 500