In case you haven’t noticed, NASCAR’s most outspoken and controversial driver has been awfully silent since the 2010 season began.
Usually known for his fiery personality, Tony Stewart, driver and owner of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet, has kept unusually quiet while the rest of the NASCAR world debates the issues that Stewart at one time would be very vocal about.
Stewart began drawing bad press for his on-track incidents early in his career, and the best known of these came at Watkins Glen back in 2000, when he and Jeff Gordon tangled and crashed.
Stewart made his displeasure toward Gordon known in an obscenity-laden tirade. The bad blood between the two didn’t stop there, but instead continued the following year in 2001, when Jeff Gordon pulled a “bump and run," to gain a better finishing position in a race in Bristol.
Stewart took matters into his own hands when he retaliated in a post-race incident, spinning Gordon out on pit road.
Stewart was fined and placed on probation by NASCAR. He got into further trouble at Daytona, when he confronted a Winston Cup official after ignoring a black flag.
At the same race, he also got into an incident with a reporter, kicking away a tape recorder. Stewart confronted the same NASCAR official during the race in Talladega, after refusing to wear a mandated head-and-neck restraint.
Stewart was not allowed to practice until wearing one, and it was only after his crew chief Greg Zipadelli intervened that he was able to go out on the track and practice.
His fines and probation periods resulting from these incidents earned Stewart a reputation of having a hot-temper, and he was quickly dubbed NASCAR’s “bad boy."
In 2002, Stewart continued to add to his “bad boy” image when the second half of his season was plagued by an altercation with a photographer after the Brickyard 400. NASCAR put Stewart on probation for the rest of the season.
On August 16 2005, Stewart was fined $5,000 for hitting the car of Brian Vickers after the completion of the Busch Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.
Stewart was driving a Busch series car owned by Kevin Harvick Incorporated at the time.
Stewart also was placed on probation until December 31. 2006, making it one of Stewart’s roughest seasons.
Stewart expressed his concerns on the fifth anniversary of the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. about the possibility of aggressive driving resulting in the serious injury or death of a driver.
Just a few days after Stewart’s comments to the media during the 48th running of the Daytona 500, he was involved in a number of incidents with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth.
Stewart chased Kenseth halfway across the track to run into the grass. “He has no room to complain,” Stewart said of his brush with Kenseth.
Stewart also added that, “He started it, and I finished it.”
On July 23, Stewart once again was at the center of a media storm.
On lap 31 of the Pennsylvania 500, Stewart was accidentally squeezed against the wall by fellow driver Clint Bowyer.
Stewart responded by waving his hand in anger, then purposely hitting Bowyer’s car.
The contact sent Bowyer spinning down the front stretch where he collided with Carl Edwards. Stewart was promptly held one lap by NASCAR for rough driving.
He did however pass leader Ryan Newman to get back on the lead lap and eventually rallied to finish seventh and get back in the top 10 in the point standings.
After initially refusing to take responsibility for the incident, he apologized the next day.
On June 4, 2007, Stewart and Kurt Busch had an incident on pit road in the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Busch passed Stewart on the inside, and Stewart dumped Busch, who crashed into the wall, knocking out Busch, but with Stewart staying in the race.
Under the caution, Stewart was on pit road in his pit box when Kurt Busch pulled alongside to express his feelings over the incident.
One of Stewart’s crewmen had to jump out of the way of Kurt’s car to avoid being hit.
It was one year ago when Stewart set the NASCAR world on fire by leading the final two laps of the All-Star Race, his first victory in the annual non-points event and his first as an owner/driver.
Stewart beat Roush Fenway driver Matt Kenseth by .971 seconds to pocket the winners share of $1,058,656.
However controversial his past, so far this season Stewart has shown us a different side, a side that some probably never thought existed.
Instead of lashing out at the media because he got beat and had to settle for a lower finishing position, Stewart now graciously speaks words of wisdom that are uncharacteristic of his personality.
Stewart has always been consistent whenever it came to his overzealous on-track antics, and he has never been one to hide his true feelings.
Either way he is still one of the most energetic drivers out on the track today, and you never know when that fuse will get lit and vintage Stewart will explode right before our very eyes.