Mar 16, 2014, 11:36 PM EDT
The best way to get Tony Stewart inspired seems to be when he’s ticked off – and the proof of that was in his fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
As the first three weeks of the 2014 season had played out, Stewart had grown weary of questions from media and fans about how he was physically and how far he’s recovered since last August’s sprint car mishap that left him with a severely fractured right leg, causing him to miss the final 15 races of the Sprint Cup season.
When he got to Bristol last Thursday, Stewart may not have wanted to be reminded – but of course, the media did so – about his overall career record at the half-mile bullring, the second-worst performing track in his personal Cup annals.
A poor qualifying performance Saturday, forcing Stewart to take a provisional to sit 37th on Sunday’s starting grid didn’t help, either.
Enough was enough for Stewart, it would appear, as on Sunday he drove like the Smoke of old and gave hope to diehard fans who were concerned about the slow and dismal start he had in the season’s first three races (35th at Daytona, 16th at Phoenix, 33rd at Las Vegas).
“It’s not a win, I know that, but it feels like a win,” Stewart said. “I think we will take that. Come to Bristol and run 500 laps here and a top five, that is just what the doctor ordered.”
Admittedly, there still is a slight downside. For as well as he performed, because of the way he finished in the three races beforehand, Stewart only improved slightly in the Sprint Cup standings, from 27th to 23rd.
Even so, there is now hope where there was little before Bristol, where he earned his best finish since a runner-up showing in the 2010 spring race there, four years ago.
Smoke may not be totally back, but Sunday’s finish would seem to indicate that he’s at least on the right track.
“To start 37th and end up fourth today, I’m pretty excited about that,” Stewart said. “We had a long way to go from Friday, when we weren’t very good and every day we just got better and better. So, I’m really proud of this team.”
Of course, Stewart was once again asked how he felt physically after the race. Would you expect anything less from the media?
Without batting an eye, his response was vintage Stewart, bringing the house down with laughter: “I feel great! Let’s do it again!”
While Stewart will likely continue to be ticked off every now and then by the media, for at least a few days he shook off the pessimists and can look forward to next Sunday’s race at Fontana with optimism.
“It’s a step in the right direction for sure,” Stewart said. “This is a big one. If you come out of this place with a top-five you’ve had a good day.”
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Aug 23, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
The 450 Class championship battle between Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen has come down to the final race of the season. Who will leave Utah with a title in hand?
Aug 23, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Fourth place a welcome surprise for Fernando Alonso and Ferrari.
WATCH LIVE: Utah National qualifying and pre-show at 1 p.m. ET; Tomac, Martin currently top the charts
Aug 23, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT
The final round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship has arrived. Watch the second qualifying session at 1 p.m. ET and the pre-show at 2:15 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra.
Aug 23, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
For the second year in a row, Bianchi managed to upset some of the bigger names during qualifying at Spa.
Aug 23, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had raced at the track “Too Tough To Tame” on Labor Day weekend from 1950-2003.
Aug 23, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
P18 on the grid goes down as the Hulk’s second-worst qualifying result in F1.
Aug 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Defending world champion qualifies a distant third behind the two Mercedes cars on Saturday at Spa.
Aug 23, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
2008 world champion secures his first top five qualifying result since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June.
Aug 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Mercedes locks out the front row of the grid for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June, with Rosberg claiming pole at one of the sport’s most famous circuits.
Aug 23, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Lewis wants to beat Rosberg when the German is at the peak of his powers, as the two drivers fight for this year’s F1 world title.
Aug 23, 2014, 9:05 AM EDT
German driver takes pole at a damp Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday afternoon.
Aug 23, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
The Ferrari driver took the plunge after being nominated by Felipe Massa and soccer player Juan Manuel Mata.
Aug 23, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT
You can watch qualifying from Spa-Francorchamps live on CNBC and Live Extra from 8am ET.
Aug 23, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
The Daytona round of the Red Bull Global Rallycross is a key one and kicks off the second half of the 2014 season. Here’s more from Kristen Kenney heading into the weekend.
Aug 23, 2014, 7:15 AM EDT
Sainz was expected to get the Toro Rosso drive, but was rejected in favor of 16-year-old Max Verstappen.
Aug 23, 2014, 6:30 AM EDT
Red Bull’s chief technical officer isn’t getting his hopes up for this weekend’s race at Spa.
Aug 23, 2014, 6:03 AM EDT
Williams finishes practice for the Belgian GP with a flourish.
Aug 23, 2014, 4:45 AM EDT
One final chance for the drivers and teams to get to grips with Spa ahead of qualifying later today.
Aug 23, 2014, 1:09 AM EDT
Dramatic day for Pro Mazda, USF2000 Friday in Sonoma.
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