Should NASCAR Allow Drivers to Compete in Other Series?

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Should NASCAR Allow Drivers to Compete in Other Series?
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How many of us have watched our boss do something that we question, even if we want to tell him something for his or her own good, yet we don't say anything for fear of how he or she would react?

Tony Stewart doesn't have that problem. He is the boss at Stewart-Haas Racing, and he's going to do what he wants.

If Stewart wants to go racing in either a sprint car or some other ilk of four wheels other than a NASCAR Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series ride, he's going to do it.

There's no one to tell him he might be making a mistake—certainly not himself.

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That end result only adds to the unfortunate situation Stewart experienced when he broke his right leg in two key places—the tibia and fibula—when he wrecked in an otherwise nondescript sprint car race in Iowa on Monday.

While the health ramifications are rather routine—Stewart will have several weeks of recovery following surgery Tuesday morning, plus another one to further fix the damage somewhere down the road—the racing ramifications are indeed very costly.

Stewart's chances of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, while not totally out of the question but indeed severely affected by his mishap in Iowa, will be determined not only in the remaining five pre-Chase races, but also by how his leg responds and heals.

There's still a slight chance he could get back in the car for the Chase, but that's a big if right now. And depending on how many races Stewart misses, Martin Truex Jr. and Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, now have the best shot at overtaking Stewart for one of the two available wild-card berths for the Chase.

Wouldn't that be ironic? Newman makes the Chase in his final season with Stewart-Haas Racing—he was told a few weeks ago that he was being cut loose at season's end—and then he becomes SHR's lone representative in the Chase?

Many Stewart fans are likely crushed right now by seeing their favorite driver's title chances go up in smoke (no pun intended).

Some may even be asking why NASCAR can't step in and prevent racers like Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and others from competing in other racing series and events such as sprint car, late model, go-karts and more.

The reason is simple: NASCAR has jurisdiction over what a driver does related to the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series circuits. But it has absolutely no say over drivers' extracurricular racing activities. And that's the way it should be.

First off, while NASCAR can mandate things like preventing drivers from using banned substances or drugs, it can't tell them what they can or can't do in their spare time if it has nothing to do with the sanctioning body or the drivers' regular jobs.

Second, virtually every driver in NASCAR is an independent contractor. There is no such thing as staff drivers. Therefore, while NASCAR has the ability to request drivers to refrain from certain things, it has no bite in its teeth.

That's why we see so many drivers who are also pilots. And can you imagine NASCAR trying to tell Travis Pastrana that he can't compete in the X-Games or any other type of extreme sports event ever again?

Yeah, like that would go over real well.

Now, team owners have more jurisdiction over the drivers who sign contracts to drive for them. Those same contracts can—and often do—include stipulations and limitations about what a driver can or can't do in his or her spare time, including things like skydiving and the like.

One of the main reasons Stewart left Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2008 was because Gibbs frowned upon his extracurricular racing activities. Sure, Stewart also wanted to return to the Chevrolet fold and would have been a fool to pass up a 50 percent ownership equity stake in what is now Stewart-Haas Racing.

By leaving JGR, Stewart was able to go back to Chevy, run his own team and, most importantly, call his own shots. He wouldn't have another individual telling him what he could or couldn't do, particularly in his time away from a Sprint Cup track.

Now, in light of what happened Monday—and barring a miracle that Smoke can come back and still make the Chase, and potentially even challenge for what would be his fourth Cup crown—maybe it's time he re-evaluates some of his decisions.

Sure, we get it that Tony loves to drive anything, anytime and anywhere. But at the age of 42 and with a great deal more responsibility on his plate as an owner-driver than just a driver for hire, maybe it's time he stop listening to his driver side and start listening to the more practical and prudent owner side.

Say what you want, but Stewart has been involved in two Sprint car wrecks in the last three weeks. I don't necessarily believe he's lost his edge, and that's why he wrecked out each time.

On the contrary, he still has a great deal of talent ready to be used behind the wheel. But for his own good, not to mention the several hundred employees at SHR that rely upon Stewart and his company for their livelihoods, maybe it's time Smoke focus solely on what he does best: drive for a Sprint Cup team.

Giving up his beloved sprint cars and other forms of dirt-track cars is going to be tough on Tony, but there comes a time in everyone's life that they have to grow up—and that time is now for Stewart.

I still remember how Stewart's idol, A.J. Foyt, found it so hard to walk away from racing after a horrendous wreck at Road America in Wisconsin in 1990. The brakes on his Indy car failed, sending the car flying off the first turn. The vehicle flipped and nearly killed him.

Foyt was airlifted to a Milwaukee hospital 60 miles away in critical condition, suffering from a broken left foot and heel, a dislocated left knee and a right ankle and also a broken toe on his right foot. For a few agonizing hours immediately after the wreck, it was uncertain whether the four-time Indy 500 winner would live or die.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a career-ending wreck for Foyt.

Still, the grizzled, stubborn Texan (sounds a lot like Tony, doesn't it?) tried to come back in 1991 and 1992, competing in 10 races total, with a best finish of ninth in the 1992 Indy 500 (which would prove to be his last race ever at Indy as a driver) before ultimately hanging up his firesuit for good at the age of 57.

Stewart still has a lot of racing left in him, maybe even a few more Sprint Cup championships.

But given what happened Monday, maybe he should limit all that remaining racing left in him to his primary job.

Because racing for kicks sometimes just isn't worth it.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.

 

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