Monday, June 30, 2008

Smoke... it's time to move on

The time has come, I believe, for Tony Stewart to move on.

After a decade at Joe Gibbs Racing with two championships and over 30 Sprint Cup victories, 2008 should be the final season for Stewart to climb behind the wheel of the #20 car. Much to the dismay of my friend Christian Scott whose apartment is filled with orange Home Depot stuff, long-time fans will have to pack the old behind and move on. Much like the last 10 months for me moving to a new ride at Hendrick Motorsports, a new number, and new sponsors for Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2009 will be the same for Tony Stewart fans.

I think Sunday's race at New Hampshire was the kicker for Stewart. After dominating much of the race, Stewart's bid for a win came short when rains approached the racetrack, and instead of a win or atleast a top 5 finish, Stewart was forced to settle for 14th.

The success and luck he has enjoyed since 1999 is obviously done. Smoke said in a very painful interview with TNT on Sunday that his luck has run out. Twice in the last year, rain has taken a win away from him (the other at Kansas last fall.)

I don't think it has anything to do with crew chief Greg Zipadelli. I don't think it has anything to do with Gibbs' move to Toyota this year. I think it has to do with the fact that things continue to change in NASCAR all the time, and this year is no exception. The new racecar has thrown even veteran drivers a loop, and it seems anymore that once a guy gets dominant in one point of the race, he stays that way throughout and only an accident, mechanical problems, or bad pit strategy keep them from victory.

All season long, with a few exceptions, we've seen a driver dominate the race and go to victory lane. At Las Vegas, Carl Edwards was the dominant car and overcame pit problems to win. Last week at Infineon, Kyle Busch led over 75 laps en route to victory. But some strong cars aren't as lucky.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was set to win the Coca-Cola 600 only before an accident took him out of contention. Before that, he was going to win at Richmond before Busch took him out with a handful of laps remaining.

But yesterday at New Hampshire, Smoke was the man, not surprising to anybody, and it looked like he would keep his tradition of burning up the track during the summer months. The stage was set for him to win until late pit stops where he took tires, others took fuel only, and some stayed on the racetrack hoping the rains would come.

The rains came and stopped the race with 17 laps to go. After a short window, NASCAR called the race and Kurt Busch was declared the victor, not Stewart or any of the other cars who ran up front most of the day.

Bad luck, bad cars, and other wildcards are causes for Smoke to jump ship. And with the announcement that Casey Mears will not return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2009, I think Stewart is set to take the empty room in the inn. I hope for Tony's sake he decides not to enter in to partial ownership and drive for Haas CNC Racing next year. I think that's career suicide. Why go to a team that struggles to make races?

As a Hendrick Motorsports fan, I welcome Tony Stewart into the organization if he so chooses. Even if that means that Joey Logano will drive the 20 car next year. I'll just have to deal with that.

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