Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Category: Stock Cars
CLASS OF: 2019

by Godwin Kelly

Tony Stewart gave up the wheel of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car after the 2016 season, but don't ask him about life in "racing retirement."

If anything, Stewart punched the accelerator when he stopped driving.

Don't forget, he owns half of the Stewart-Haas Racing juggernaut, which includes four NASCAR Cup Series teams, plus several dirt tracks (most famously, Eldora Speedway) and competes in some 70 Sprint Car events each season.

There is no way to slow the 47-year-old motorsports entrepreneur, who darts around the country on a weekly basis in his private jet.

He let go of driving at 45 for reasons of his own choosing and has not looked back.

"There wasn't any pressure from anybody," Stewart said. "If anything, it was the opposite. I know people were trying to talk me out of it. It's a scenario where everybody in their career makes the decision that it's time for a change."

Stewart's driving accomplishments are plenty. He was named 1999 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year after scoring three wins in his debut season.

From that jumpstart, he made 618 starts, scored 49 victories, won three championships and banked more than $100 million in prize money.

He only drove for two owners, starting with the legendary Joe Gibbs then hopping the fence in 2009 to co-own SHR with Gene Haas, who had limited success before Stewart's arrival.

Of Stewart's three titles, the 2011 campaign was simply spectacular. All five of his wins came in the playoffs.

He capped the run by winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which tied him with Carl Edwards in points. Stewart captured the championship on the first tiebreaker — number of wins. Edwards had just one.

Stewart's last Cup victory was sensational. He clanked sheet metal with Denny Hamlin in a last-lap duel at Sonoma and got around him in the final seconds.

"I couldn't believe (Hamlin) missed the corner," Stewart said. "They said he wheel-hopped it, but I was shocked that the door was open like that. You can't crack the door open with me on the last corner of the last lap and expect me to not take it. I'll kick the door in or drive a bulldozer through it to keep it open."

While devoted to Cup racing, Stewart also dipped his toes into NASCAR's Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He made 94 Xfinity starts and produced 11 victories. He made six Truck Series appearances and won twice.

On top of that, he made 26 Verizon IndyCar Series starts and won three times, including the 1996-7 championship. He contested the International Race of Champions (IROC) five times and scored four wins, including the 2006 championship. All of this in addition to his 1994 USAC National Midget Series and 1995 USAC Triple Crown titles.

"Tony Stewart's legacy can't be defined by one category," said Fox Sports analyst Larry McReynolds. "If there was a blue-collar racer, he'd be at the top of the list because he embodies what a true racer is. The other thing that gets lost in the shuffle is how good of a person he is. Tony's heart is as big as his race car."

Kelly, 63, has covered NASCAR since 1979 for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He helps produce the nationally syndicated 'NASCAR This Week' and cohosts the acclaimed podcast 'Daytona Motor Mouths.' He has written five books including a biography of Fireball Roberts which he's currently developing into a movie script.

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