Mike McCarn/Associated Press
Tony Stewart's final season will lack everything that Jeff Gordon’s had: feeling and nostalgia.
Smoke was never one you could wrap your arms around. In point of fact, he kept everybody at arm’s length, including peers and NASCAR at large.
He won three Sprint Cups while in his prime and was, in every sense of the word, the Anti-Gordon. In an era dominated by Jimmie Johnson and Gordon, Stewart was every bit the opposite. Where Johnson and Gordon are notoriously fit—as in athletic—Stewart’s phenotype trends more toward a wine barrel.
Where Johnson and Gordon had the sparkly good looks that made them perfect symbols/mediums for Corporate America, Stewart spent his free time on dirt tracks.
And maybe it’s the latter—racing on dirt tracks—that may stain what was otherwise a Hall of Fame career. In August 2014, Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt-track race in Upstate New York. The 44-year-old has never been the same.
It’s the black cloud he’ll always live with, and now a season where he’s the only driver of note retiring, he gets the spotlight, some adulation, but also the heat from that summer night.
Stewart could have done himself some favors by retiring in this past offseason* once the Gordon dust settled, but now he’s in a car that hasn’t won a race since 2013 and odds are he’ll go winless—and Chase-less—in 2016.
*Probably far more complicated, but Clint Bowyer had no team for some time.