Where There's Smoke, There's Fire: Tony Stewart's Season's Gone Critical

Jordan McGrawContributor IMay 10, 2010

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 08:  Smoke pours out the back of the #14 Old Spice / Office Depot Chevrolet driven by Tony Stewart on track during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 8, 2010 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Tony Stewart may want to forget Mother’s Day weekend.

Friday, Stewart and the crew of his No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet were unable to find any speed or get a handle on the car at Darlington Raceway.

Saturday, the team’s problems continued. Stewart made contact with the wall on a couple of occasions, and finally spun the car out on lap 200. He finished an uncompetitive 23rd.

Sunday offered up the finishing blow. Old Spice, a long time sponsor of Stewart’s dirt track programs, his ventures into the Nationwide Series, and co-sponsor of his Sprint Cup car, announced it would not renew its contract and would leave him after the 2010 season.

Talk about a triple-whammy.

Obviously, this isn’t the news the two-time former Cup champion wanted to hear. In fact, given the struggles his team has faced this season, it’s devastating.

In his second year as the owner of Stewart-Hass Racing, which fields cars for both himself and teammate Ryan Newman, Stewart currently sits 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings. Previously, the lowest he had ever been ranked after the first 11 races of a season was 17th in 2003, making this the worst start in his cup career.

Moreover, Stewart is currently on a streak of six straight finishes of 16th or worse, the most consecutive finishes outside the top 15 in his career.

Not all hope is lost, however. Tony Stewart has made a habit of heating up during the summer months, which are rapidly approaching. The summer holds many tracks that he has been historically strong at, including the two road courses and Indianapolis.

In 2003, the year he sat 17th in the standings after 11 races, he made his way to 11th by the end of race 26 at Richmond, and ultimately finished the year ranked seventh.

The differences between 2003 and 2010 for Stewart are like night and day, though.

In 2003, he was coming off of his first of two cup championships. He was a championship driver with a championship crew chief and a championship team. He also had virtually zero distractions.

Now, in 2010, Stewart is seven years older. He’s the owner of two race teams which are currently outside the Chase for the Sprint Cup cutoff and need fixing.

He’s now losing one of his biggest sponsors and has to start looking for a deal to put together by the end of the year.

On top of all that, his organization is a major player in rumors involving the whereabouts of driver Kasey Kahne in 2011.

Stewart has a lot on his plate right now, and it exponentially lessens the probability of his race team catching fire and making one of his custom-patented summer runs.

It won’t be impossible though. Brian Vickers was 17th in the standings last year after Darlington, and was able to make the Chase. Stewart is currently only 59 points behind 12th place Dale Earnhardt Jr., a smaller margin than Vickers came back from.

It can be done. But if Tony Stewart has a panic button in his office somewhere, he may want to find it, just in case.