I will start by saying that I have always been a Tony Stewart fan and always will be. But, Tony Stewart was wrong the last two weeks taking out Brian Scott at Darlington and Ryan Newman plus six others at Richmond.
Many have said that Tony Stewart hasn’t been the same racer since the Sprint Car accident in Iowa where he broke his leg and has been even less competitive since the Sprint Car accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. Prior to those accidents, there was always Stewart justice when he ran at the Cup level. Ask Carl Edwards, Robby Gordon, Brian Vickers and several others what happens when you rough up Stewart or block Stewart? Do that and you face Stewart Justice. Stewart was wrong, but this is something that NASCAR drivers have known for more than a decade. Even though Stewart was honest in his post-race comments, I hope that NASCAR fines Stewart for his actions. Wow, that is something I never thought I would say.
Ryan Newman who has the history of being the toughest person in NASCAR to pass is also very calculated with his words to the media pre and post race. The first parts of his comments saying that Stewart was old and should retire are fine. Newman is passionate and was frustrated by missing the Chase. Those comments I can live with. The comments that followed were beyond personal. I understand Newman being ticked that Stewart took him out. I can see him holding his anger inside for four years because his contract wasn’t extended at Stewart-Haas Racing. Then, after being told there wasn’t the budget for a fourth car and that he was out at SHR, suddenly, Kurt Busch has a ride funded by Gene Haas. Even so, there is no place for comments like that. I always respected Ryan Newman, but I lost a little of that respect on Saturday night.
The sad part is that this back and forth took away from the great racing that took place at Richmond International Raceway, Denny Hamlin’s win and the Chase grid being set. Everything took a back seat to Newman putting Stewart on blast and that is a shame.
As we head to Chicagoland, you have to wonder if there are paybacks in the future. Will Newman wreck Stewart? Will Cole Custer get revenge on John Hunter Nemechek for the injustice he was victim to at Canadian Motorsports Park? Will the races be the top story next week or will it be about payback being delivered? My thoughts are that Newman doesn’t want to face a suspension and Cole Custer will wait until the Chase to get his payback on Nemechek.
Here are my predictions for the each round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup:
Round 1: Kyle Busch will win this weekend at Chicago. Tony Stewart surprises everyone by winning at New Hampshire and Jimmie Johnson wins at Dover. The first four eliminated are Carl Edwards, Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray. I think one Joe Gibbs Racing car will have an issue at New Hampshire, Buescher and Dillon don’t have the equipment to get the job done and Jamie McMurray has been running well, but not at the front.
Round 2: Truex wins at Charlotte, Harvick wins at Kansas and Logano wins at Talladega. Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson are eliminated.
Round 3: Hamlin wins at Martinsville, Truex wins at Texas, Harvick wins at Phoenix and Stewart points his way in. (Remember, when I started I said I am a fan of Smoke and this is a, from the heart, pick. My head says Johnson points his way in, but I’m a columnist, so I am going with my heart. Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Johnson and Logano are eliminated.
Final Four: So that leaves Hamlin, Harvick, Truex and Stewart as the final four. I would love to read the story of Stewart winning his final race and his fourth Championship, but I just don’t see it happening. Truex and Harvick have had pit road issues which could easily derail them at the Ford 400.
My pick for the 2016 Sprint Cup Championship is Denny Hamlin. The communication between driver and crew chief is spot on, the pit crew has been flawless and Denny Hamlin promised Joe Gibbs when he was signed to the organization that he would bring home a championship to JGR and this year, I think he will.
Enjoy the races at Chicago and we’ll talk again when I share the View from My Recliner.