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Woody: Can Stewart Turn Up The Heat?

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 12 2010

Tony Stewart could be the guy to catch and pass and deprive Jimmie. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

While the rest of the field seems allergic to Jimmie Johnson’s rear bumper, there’s one driver who just might be able to muster a challenge to Mr. Invincible.

Tony Stewart. The driver called “Smoke.” (Who used to be called some other things back in his temper-tantrum days.)

Stewart won last Sunday’s race in California and vaulted five spots in the standings, all the way up to 5th. With six races left going into Saturday night’s rumble under the lights at Charlotte, Stewart may be the one driver most capable of derailing Jimmie Johnson’s bit for a fifth straight championship.

He’s 107 points behind Johnson, 94 of those points lost when he ran out of gas in the Chase opener at New Hampshire. He was running up front with two laps to go when his car died – and with it, possibly his Chase hopes.

Most of us figured that crushing turn of events would take the steam out of Stewart, who already seemed to have been lacking his old spunk and sprit.

Now suddenly he’s back in the picture.

It’s impossible to play the “what-if” game regarding Stewart’s New Hampshire fizzle. It could be that that disappointment made Tony and his team more determined and provided the impetus for a harder stretch run. (Personally I don’t believe that losing is ever a good thing for a team, but I realize it has to put the best spin possible on it.)

There was a time when Stewart was the most volatile racer in racing, known as much for his tantrums as for his triumphs. For the last couple of years he has become more settled, more mature. (With the exception of an occasional joust with the media, for old time’s sake.)

At one point Tony’s behavior was so bad that there was some doubt that he’d be able to continue in the sport. He had provoked NASCAR, alienated the media, peeved the fans and – most critical of all – irritated his sponsor.

Stewart was hurtling down a path to self destruction. Then suddenly he calmed down. About the same time his performance on the track dropped off.

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

Was there a correlation? Is Stewart one of those athletes who has to have a chip on his should in order to play hard? Does he have to be bad to race good? Can he tolerate serenity?

We may know the answer in coming weeks. The New Tony has been turning in some of the impressive runs that we used to see from the Old Tony, but without the tantrums and turmoil.

Where’s there’s Smoke there’s suddenly some fire, and Stewart may make things hot for Johnson before it’s over.

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 12 2010
One Comment

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  • lydia says:

    I don’t read much about racing these days…it has gotten to be so..ho hum…and if you look down the list of columns on Jayskis this article is one of many on the same subject. BUT, I will add my two cents…we all change as we get older…the best I can tell Stewart still has his fire..and as you mentioned still likes to keep the media hopping…BUT…he has learned (whether on purpose or not) to redirect his anger..and it is reaping benefits on the track. IF he can catch Johnson …we’ll have to wait and see…but it sure looks to me like he has all the fire and rage he did in the old days…he is just using it to his advantage instead of self destructing.