When it comes to racing drivers who have won across vastly different series around the world, there can be hundreds of debates and viewpoints on who the greatest of all time is. Names like Mario Andretti, the Unsers, Aryton Senna and Nicki Lauda come to mind.
To me, though, there are two at the top of the list, ahead of all the others. These two drivers won in just about everything they raced in, and they could and would race in anything at any time.
One of them is A.J. Foyt. The other is Tony Stewart.
“This one’s for every one of those fans in the stands who pull for me every week and take all of the bull**** from everyone else,” Tony Stewart proclaimed in victory lane after winning the 2007 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Stewart announced his retirement on September 30 from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series following the 2016 season, adding that Clint Bowyer will replace him in the No. 14 Chevrolet. It is not the end of a long and storied career, however. Stewart made it extremely clear in his press conference that he isn’t retiring from racing. When asked if he would run in just about anything outside of Sprint Cup cars, the only race he gave a definite no to, is an Indianapolis 500 start.
After being asked if he had spoken to A.J. Foyt yet about his retirement from the Sprint Cup Series, Stewart said, “I haven’t yet. He’s probably going to yell at me like he normally does when I call him. I’m sure I’m going to get a bunch of grief, but I’m trying to be as nice today as I can. But I’m sure he’s going to give me a lot of grief over this.”
Stewart is the splitting image of Foyt, his boyhood hero and idol, even in retirement from the big leagues. Foyt continued on after driving by owning and operating a top race team, which he continues to do today. The three-time champion made certain to point out during his press conference that he would remain involved in the highest levels of racing via Stewart-Haas Racing.
“I made sure to send (Mike) Helton and (Steve) O’Donnell messages this week,” Stewart emphasized, “and say, listen, don’t get too excited about this because I’m taking a suit and helmet off, but I’m still going to be at the track harassing everybody, so nobody is getting a free pass now.”
Stewart is a driver’s driver. Keeping an extensive dirt racing schedule until 2013 and hoping to resume it in 2017, he was right at home in whatever car he drove. It could be slingin’ dirt at Eldora, hitting speeds well over the 200 mph range in an IndyCar, dominating in go-karts at the Daytona road course, going up on the high banks at the same track in a big NASCAR stock car, or just competing at your local track in a quarter midget. Stewart has done it all and won it all.
However, these last few years have easily been the toughest years of Stewart’s career. A leg injury in 2013 capped off what had been a mediocre season that saw him sitting out The Chase. The next year, 2014, was a disappointing season even before the now infamous Kevin Ward Jr. incident. So far, 2015 has far and away been the worst full-time season in Stewart’s entire Cup career.
Before Stewart’s press conference, I thought it would be one of the saddest moments of the year. Instead, however, I saw something else. Stewart, for the first time in what seems like forever, is back to being himself. Not the doom and gloom version, but the Stewart of old, happy and joking around.
“A lot of you probably were here yesterday or some of you might have been here for the press conference here in the same room yesterday for Gene’s Formula 1 announcement. He didn’t announce his second driver for the F1 team, and you’re looking at him,” Stewart said with a smile.
Stewart’s life in racing isn’t ending. You probably won’t see him racing on television much after 2016, but at your local dirt track? They say if you get really lucky, you may see Smoke rise again.
New Hampshire Preview, the Third and Final Race of the Challenger Round of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Jimmie Johnson is going to be very hard to stop. The June winner at Dover, Johnson, hasn’t finished outside of the top three since the 2013 June race here, when he jumped the last restart, got a black flag, and finished 17th. Outside of that finish, Johnson hasn’t ended the day outside of the top-10 since 2010.
Although Matt Kenseth only has two victories at Dover, this has always been a good track for the Wisconsin native. In 33 starts, Kenseth holds 15 top fives and 21 top 10s at the Monster Mile. A fun fact – this was the site of his very first start in 1998. The then 26-year-old XFINITY Series driver drove the No. 94 McDonalds Ford to an impressive sixth place finish in relief of team owner Bill Elliott, whose father passed away the day before the race.
Kyle Busch enters this weekend a single point out of the final transfer spot of the Chase. A solid race for “Rowdy” should get him into the next round. This definitely isn’t his worst track, either. If you take out all five of his DNFs, none of which were really his fault, Kyle has finished outside of the top-10 only three times in his career at Dover.
Jeff Gordon is the defending race winner and hasn’t won since that race nearly a year ago. Iron Man seems to be finding his way back on track lately, however, a win-contending run ending in a disappointing 14th place finish at Chicagoland due to a poor restart, was sandwiched between sevenths at both Richmond and last week at New Hampshire.
Kevin Harvick enters Dover needing a win to make it to the Contender Round of The Chase. A top-five finish could be enough, but he’d need a lot of help to get into the top 12 in points. Although Harvick has never won at Dover in the Cup Series, he has led laps in the last three races here, including 223 laps last fall before blowing a tire while leading and 93 laps in June before settling for a second place.
All stats for the Finley Factor are as per Racing Reference unless otherwise noted.