He’s won three championships and 49 races in 18 years of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. He’s also earned countless victories and titles on short tracks across America in nearly every form of racing imaginable. But few things have touched Tony Stewart like the honor he’s to receive this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, when the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver makes his 28th and final appearance on the 1.5-mile oval.
Stewart will have his own bobblehead doll.
“I don’t know that I ever aspired to or ever thought my career would be complete until I got a bobblehead,” Stewart said with an ever-so-slight tinge of sarcasm. “But now I’ve got one, so now my life is complete.”
The bobblehead is the brainchild of track president Eddie Gossage as part of “Tony Stewart’s Last Ride at Texas Motor Speedway.” The facility is going to hand out the Stewart bobbleheads to the first 30,000 fans who come to Sunday’s AAA 500.
Stewart reviewed the bobblehead and offered his artistic critique.
“Unfortunately, it does look like me – that’s the scary part,” said Stewart, who also accused Gossage of cutting costs by mounting his oversized head on a skinnier model’s body. “I think people are going to put them in the corners of their house to keep the insects and mice away. It will scare everybody and probably ward off intruders.”
Stewart and the track have a long relationship dating back to his IndyCar Series days. Stewart last visited Texas Motor Speedway in late September for his annual “Smoke Show” fantasy camp with fans benefitting Speedway Children’s Charities. There were 21 campers from eight states and Canada. Stewart has raised more than $1.5 million since the event’s inception in 2008 and plans to continue doing it on an annual basis even though he will no longer be a full-time Sprint Cup driver beginning in 2017.
Still, Texas won’t be all fun and games for Stewart, who arrives at the ultra-fast track after finishing 26th at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last weekend. He hopes to climb from 14th to 13th place in the standings before the season ends in three weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stewart would also like to earn his 50th career Sprint Cup victory in one of the final three races before his future Hall of Fame career comes to a close.
Texas could be the place. He owns two poles, two wins, eight top-three finishes, 12 top-fives, 23 top-10s and has led a total of 183 laps in his 35 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas. His average start is 13.0, his average finish is 12.6 and he has a lap-completion rate of 96.7 percent.
Does Stewart dream of winning the 50th at Texas?
“I’ll take it anywhere,” he said with a laugh.
It would cap a successful final year in Sprint Cup racing during which he missed the first eight races recovering from a January off-track accident. He hasn’t missed a beat since his return, posting five top-fives and eight top-10s in 25 races. Stewart also returned to victory lane in June on the road course at Sonoma (Calif.) International Raceway.
The remainder of the 2017 season carries the promise of more possible rewards for Stewart than his driving career alone. His SHR team has drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in the Round of 8 of the Chase for the Championship playoffs with the hopes either could give the team its third championship since its inception in 2009. The team co-owned by Stewart and Gene Haas has earned 36 victories in 816 races.
Sunday will mark the final time Texas will see Stewart race in the Sprint Cup Series, if fans arrive early they’ll take home a Stewart bobblehead and if they stay to the end they’ll, hopefully, get to see one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers take home a trophy.