Tony Stewart will have some pretty special memories of his off season vacation from NASCAR. And at least one souvenir.
Stewart headed halfway round the world to the Land Down Under for what is becoming an annual tradition of sorts; dirt racing in Australia. The trip normally provides good PR opportunities for everyone involved, from the track promoters to those in Stewart’s entourage. This was his second trip and like the last one it’s been a feel good, looks good, let’s go racing boys outing for one of NASCAR’s most popular driver/owners.
That all changed Saturday night.
Apparently Stewart was none too pleased with something at Sydney Speedway a dirt track in the city of Parramatta near Sydney where he was scheduled to compete in the final sprint car race of his trip before heading back Stateside Sunday.
Stewart got into a tiff with the track’s co-owner who according to several accounts is not a small man. The face off ended with a helmet being tossed, Stewart with a black eye and in the company of the local law enforcement authorities.
He was questioned for several hours before being released. The track’s co-owner Brett Morris, declined comment and Stewart left Sunday morning for the long trip home. While there is still speculation that charges could be filed, don’t expect any track owner who fills his seats with a visit by one of America’s biggest NASCAR stars to allow any charges to go forward.
The whole incident was something that showed a Tony Stewart who has seemingly been missing in action for several years.
Back in the days while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing when all Stewart had to worry about was getting in a racecar, his temper got him into hot water more than once. From throwing reporters tape recorders, shoving photographers to shooing fans away, Stewart had a reputation for being a hot head in the NASCAR garage. Of course he also gained a reputation for something else during this time; winning races and championships.
In the years that followed his last title, 2005, Stewart seemed to mellow somewhat. There were a few flashes along the way, such as a faceoff with USAC officials in 2008 that resulted in some shoving and a headset being forcibly removed from an official. But all in all, time seemed to have rounded the edges on Stewart.
Finally in 2009, his first year as an owner/driver, what fans and everyone else got was a Tony Stewart who seemed to have his temper fully under control. All traces of the hot head of old were gone replaced by a kinder gentler Tony Stewart, at least off the track. In his role as the ‘man’ Stewart was willing to answer questions, smile at fans and the outbursts of old were nowhere in sight.
It led many at the time to wonder, including myself, who are you and what have you done with our Tony Stewart?
The past two seasons as the boss though haven’t exactly been championship caliber for the two time Cup winner. While he did finish in the top-10 the last two seasons final point standings and won races, he hasn’t really been a factor in the season ending Chase. In 2010 he won only two races, his lowest season total since 2004. Worse yet the competitive fire seemed to be only smoldering for both Stewart and his second driver Ryan Newman.
It was towards the end of last season that some began to notice traces of the Tony Stewart of old peeking out. He seemed edgier, angrier and less inclined to smile as often.
Once the season ended, Stewart and the rest of NASCAR slipped into hibernation and nothing else was said about Stewart and his born-again temper.
Until Saturday night.
Half a world away, fans in Australia got to see the Tony Stewart of old. The angry, in your face, screw the world Stewart who was once a regular winner and a factor week in and week out in NASCAR.
If Stewart brings home that attitude along with his new black eye, it might be a good omen for Stewart for 2011 and a bad one for the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup field. The Tony Stewart of old won races and titles while shoving photographers and thumbing his nose at the rest of the world. If that’s the Tony Stewart that returns to Daytona in February, he may once again be a threat to win it all.
For more NASCAR News and NASCAR Commentary, follow me on Twitter or Facebook or visit CupScene.com!