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Woody: Is Tony Saving His Best For Last?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 16 2010

Tony Stewart has jumped into the top 12 but is still looking for his first victory of the season. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer

A couple of weeks ago, that mild-mannered stranger who has been wearing Tony Stewart’s racing uniform to racetracks made an announcement:

He REALLY IS Tony Stewart, the once-volatile terror of the track, and he said he’s going to get back to doing what he used to do best – making waves and rocking boats.

“For anybody who’s looking for drama, start looking, because I can promise I’m going to start making the highlight reel the next couple of weeks,” he said.

We’re still waiting.

Stewart posted a quiet fifth-place at Michigan last Sunday, a solid run but nothing spectacular. It nosed him up two spots in the standings, to 11th, but it wasn’t a win and the way he raced didn’t remotely resemble the old Tony that we used to know.

The two-time champion is winless through 15 races, and his “highlight” reel remains a woefully short viewing.

Back when Stewart was stirring things up and keeping himself in hot water, he seemed to be racing at his best. There was a theory that he thrived on adversity – that he needed a burr under his saddle to keep him motivated.

Poor Tony, he can’t win. When he was behaving badly we criticized him for his actions, and now that he’s nice and calm we complain because he’s not doing anything to generate excitement.

Too bad we can’t get a perfect mix – the nice-guy Tony that is evident much of the time, along with the volatile Tony that used to keep the media clucking and the fans on the edge of their seats.

But Stewart fans shouldn’t despair. Now that he’s cracked the Top 12 he’s going to be hard to displace. Only a major collapse will knock him out of the Chase for the Championship.

And once that final 10-race shootout starts, don’t bet against Stewart. I get a feeling that he will be riding a wave of momentum by Chase time, and that he is saving his best for last.

But meanwhile it seems unusual to watch Stewart cruising around the track, uncharacteristically staying out of trouble and protecting his paint job.

There was a time when we kept an eye on Tony the same way we used to keep an eye on Dale Earnhardt – because there tended to be action in his vicinity. Now he’s just another driver joy-riding back in the pack.

Maybe that means he’s matured, on and off the track. Maybe he’s become older and wiser and knows that now’s not the time to be forcing issues. Maybe he’s biding his time, waiting until the playoffs to get his game face on.

Maybe it’s smart on Tony’s part to play it cool and careful. But it won’t make any highlights film.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 16 2010
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