CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Tony Stewart is at peace with however his final season in NASCAR comes to an end.
There are eight races remaining in his storied career, but he is on the verge of being knocked out of the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Stewart is 15th in the standings, so he either needs a win Sunday at Dover International Raceway or the drivers ahead of him in the standings need to have some serious trouble.
Down to his last chance to add to his legacy, Stewart said Wednesday during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that he’ll try to win at Dover and will be disappointed if he doesn’t advance into the second round of the Chase.
But he is so frustrated with the current state of NASCAR, he’s ready to hang up his helmet and focus on sprint cars and dirt races.
Stewart had to claw his way to a 23rd-place finish last weekend at New Hampshire, and said nothing he tried could overcome his discomfort with the current rules package and tire combination.
“We’re in an era where technology has taken over,” he said.
Long gone, he noted, are the days when a team could chip away at its race car all weekend and driver talent made a difference on race day. Now, the teams that unload with fast cars on Fridays are typically the ones contending for wins two days later.
“On Friday, you can pretty much tell who is a contender and who is not, and 10 to 15 years ago, it didn’t used to be that way,” he said. “There were guys that could work through the weekend and get things right. Now you’ve either got it or you don’t when you come off the truck on Friday.”
The most frustrating part for the three-time champion is that there’s very little he feels he can do as a driver to improve his chances every week.
“That’s part of why I’m ready to do something different — because I can’t make a difference anymore,” he said. “I can’t go out there and do different things with my feet and different things with my hands and run a different line and fix the problem. I used to be able to do that. I can’t do that anymore, and you get so frustrated, you can’t see straight.
“You try everything in the book that you know, and it doesn’t help.”
Stewart has spent his entire career being outspoken, and noted Wednesday that the group text he’s on with most of the active drivers discuss nearly unanimous complaints every week. Yet he tends to be the only one to take the gripes public, risking a NASCAR fine, and Stewart said he’s more than ready to relinquish that role.
The money lost doesn’t bother him, but he’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t think his words make a difference.
“I’ve been fighting that fight forever, and it’s not something I am willing to go into depth on, but it’s another reason I am ready to exit,” he said. “You can only beat the drum so long and it can only fall on deaf ears for so long before you say, ‘OK, the people who can make it better can’t make it better.’”
Stewart admitted he’s “exhausted” after 18 years of shouting in the wind.
“I’ve had my fill of fighting the fight,” he said. “At some point, you’ve got to say ‘Why do I keep fighting this fight?’ There’s a lot of stuff to be frustrated about right now.”
In retirement, Stewart will stay busy. He is a half-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which is moving to Ford next season and adding an Xfinity Series team.
He owns Eldora Speedway in Ohio, a lower-tier racing series, and plans to race between 40 and 50 times next year in sprint cars. His first race is already scheduled — he won’t reveal what it is, but said it won’t be the Knoxville Nationals and will be a pavement race — and he’s excited to not live by the rigorous, 38-week NASCAR schedule.
He’d still like to make a run at a fourth title, and his competitors aren’t counting out his ability to race his way into the second round on Sunday.
“I’m still a competitor, I still want to win, I want to win as much as I did the last 38 years ... if we don’t make it, I’m going to be disappointed,” he said.
As for the old-school ability to just make something happen Sunday? Stewart isn’t sure.
“Right now, I am in a large dark room, don’t know where the wall is, let alone the light switch,” Stewart said. “If I can find it, you can guarantee I’ll flip it in a heartbeat.”