Stewart entertains fans on and off track Tuesday
LAKEVILLE – Racing around the track isn’t anything out of the ordinary for NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. But Tuesday at Newton Park, Stewart was behind the wheel of a quarter-scale radio controlled car instead of his #14 Office Depot Sprint Cup car.
Competing against one of the best in QSAC (Quarter Series Auto Club), Tony finished second to Todd Holloway in a run on the track set up for Saturday’s annual Little Hoosier 100 quarter midget race that also featured two lucky ticket drawing winners. Mike “Moon Pie” Haenes – a Hoosier Tire employee — and Camden Stuart, 8, had the honors of running the miniature Cup look-a-likes against their favorite NASCAR driver.
With 13 laps to go of a fun-filled 50, Stewart pulled ahead, but after a caution caused by the youngster, Holloway pulled ahead and held Stewart off for the win.
Even after the scheduled race, Stewart stood atop one of the trailers continuing to run more quarter-sized winged sprints and Cup cars, proving that he does love racing anything with tires. At the luncheon, Stewart fielded questions from the audience, and addressed his recent victory in another series, his first in the World of Outlaws. The coveted win came in Canada July 27. Then, in Indianapolis where he managed a sixth-place finish last weekend, Stewart displayed the hardware in the front windshield of his bus where he drew awe and praise from his fellow NASCAR friends.
“That win was huge,” Stewart said. “I was really proud of it. I’ve looked up to AJ Foyt all my life and it didn’t matter what kind of car he would drive, he’d win.”
Stewart admitted, “I’m trying to catch up to him.”
While the Columbus, Ind. native hasn’t won an Indianapolis 500, he described the years he did double-duty in the 500 and then raced the NASCAR Cup series 400 later that night in Charlotte, N.C. in both 1999 and 2001. “It’s different conditioning,” he said, “and I never regretted doing it, but I regret not winning it.” Stewart said he probably won’t have the chance to double up again, because to be competitive, he said he would need to run a full Indy Racing League series, and the Cup car owner/driver has moved on and set his sights on another coveted trophy: The Daytona 500. “It’s taken over what an Indy win means to me. That’s the next big thing we haven’t got.”
Brought to the Newton Center for a luncheon filled with his fans and close friends, Bob and Joyce Newton, Stewart answered questions before signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. This was the third year the Newtons brought Stewart to the area: Once last year at the Newton Center, and the year prior to the Plymouth Speedway.
When asked about some of the other drivers in NASCAR’s top series, Stewart said he doesn’t know much about Carl Edwards (#99) shopping around from Roush, but said that Danica Patrick is very dedicated. “She works harder than most men do,” he said. “She looks at the details we don’t think about. Her feedback is unbelievable about what the car is doing.”
He said another driver he considers a friend – to the chagrin of those in the audience – is Jeff Gordon. “Jeff was a rival of mine, but now we’re OK together. I know you don’t like him, but he’s got a hot wife,” he laughed. His fans applauded Stewart’s mention of Mark Martin, but again hissed when Stewart said, “Jimmie Johnson is awesome to work with. He’s almost too nice. He’s the first guy who texts me when I win a race to say, ‘Congratulations, I’m happy for you.’”
Kyle Busch, a driver that race fans love to hate, he said is a “good kid with a good heart.”
Next up, the Cup series heads to Pocono, then the Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta. It was there in Victory Lane in 2010 when Stewart gave a shout out and prayer to Eric Saunders – the 18-year-old motocross racing son of Stewart’s lifelong friend Irish Saunders – who was paralyzed while practicing at his home track in Lakeville. Eric is now a track promoter with the Plymouth Speedway, and father Irish said to Stewart, “We’ll expect to see you win in Atlanta again.”