by Ryan Isley
There was plenty of action on the track last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 but the best action may have come off the track after the race had finished. Tony Stewart put on a performance for the ages when talking to the reporters after finishing 24th.
In that interview – aired on ESPN’s NASCAR Now – Stewart was able to keep a straight face while basically eviscerating NASCAR fans for wanting to only see wrecks at the 2.66-mile track, the longest track on the NASCAR circuit.
“Honestly, if we haven’t crashed at least 50 percent of the field by the end of the race, we need to extend the race until we crash at least 50 percent of the cars,” Stewart said. “It’s not fair to these fans to see any more wrecks than that, any more torn-up cars. I mean, we still had over half the cars running at the end, and it shouldn’t be that way.
I’m upset that we didn’t crash more cars. That’s what we’re here for. I feel bad if I don’t spend at least $150,000 in torn-up race cars going back to the shop. We’ve definitely got to do a better job at that.
Obviously Stewart was making these comments tongue-in-cheek. No NASCAR driver would advocate for more wrecks during a race. But the funniest thing is that Stewart’s serious demeanor NEVER changed throughout the entire session.
Stewart was even able to keep a straight face with the following comments:
“I think we ought to make it a Figure Eight. I mean, if we could make it a Figure Eight, it would be perfect. It would absolutely be perfect here. It’d be better than what we’ve got. Or we could stop at halfway, take a break, then turn around and go backward. Then, with 10 to go, we could split the field and half of them could go in the regular direction and half could go backward.”
Now when all of this was done, Stewart began to take criticism in some circles because he is Tony Stewart and he has a history of not being exactly cordial with the media. And I can completely understand why some people would have harsh words for the display that Stewart showed last weekend.
But this wasn’t the Tony Stewart who told reporters last season at Richmond International Speedway on the Friday before the Wonderful Pistachios 400 – the last race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup – that they needed to start coming up with new material and ask better questions.
“The pressure is all the media standing here,” Stewart said that day. “We’re doing the same thing we always do every week. It’s you guys asking us the same questions for eight straight weeks in a row. It’s annoying as hell. That’s where the pressure is coming from because we’re answering the same thing we answered the last seven or eight weeks. That’s where it gets annoying after a while. It gets very monotonous.”
He then told Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press to come up with something original when she asked her question. After the next question, Stewart turned to Fryer and told her that the guy who had asked that question was a real journalist because he came up with something different.
That version of Tony Stewart and the version we saw last Sunday at Talladega are two different stories. At Richmond, Stewart was showing a frustration with the media by lashing out and being unprofessional. At Talladega, Stewart was showing concern with how fans only want to see wrecks the best way Stewart knows how – with humor.
I think what Stewart did at Talladega was brilliant. He was able to use his sense of humor to convey a message to fans about how stupid it is to root for wrecks without really coming out and saying anything derogatory towards the fans.
Stewart had to figure that if he just answered the same questions about wrecks and safety with normal answers like the other drivers were using, his answers would fall on deaf ears. By doing it in the manner he did, Stewart ensured that everyone would be talking about his comments – not just that day, but in the days to come.
Again – it was brilliant.
Drivers have to get frustrated when all fans want to see are the big wrecks at the racetracks – especially at Talladega and Daytona. The fans seem to put the safety of the drivers on hold as long as they get to see seven or eight cars come together and crash, sending sheet metal everywhere and ignited a blaze or two.
While NASCAR has taken steps in past years to make sure that safety measurements have been taken – be it Hans devices or Safer barriers, to name a couple – the threat of danger lurks around every corner. And every straightaway for that matter.
The insertion of SAFER barriers at some tracks have made the impacts with the walls easier to take than they had been in the past, but those are still cars going at extreme speeds hitting a wall and doing so at the wrong angle at the right speed could lead to serious injuries, if not worse.
Just ask NASCAR Nationwide driver Eric McClure.
McClure was involved in a wreck near the end of the Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 last Saturday where he went full speed into a wall that contained a SAFER barrier. The wreck was so bad that emergency crews had to cut off the top of McClure’s No.14 Hefty Toyota to get him out and he was taken by helicopter to a local hospital. McClure was not released for the hospital until Monday night with a concussion and internal bruising. McClure will miss this week’s VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway.
So excuse Stewart and the other drivers if their ideal day at the racetrack doesn’t include a wreck every 10-15 laps. These guys are out there racing their asses off and putting their lives on the line every time they strap into a car, so the last thing they have to want to hear are fans who are cheering for wrecks.
While you may not agree with how Stewart handled the situation, you can’t ignore that his message was right on the money.
What do you think – Did Tony Stewart come off as an ass or do you agree with Ryan that it was a brilliant move? Leave a comment or email Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org