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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Mar 29, 2015, 2:23 PM EDT
Ed Jones wins again in St. Petersburg, to complete an Indy Lights weekend sweep.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
IndyCar is racing today, at long last. Here’s what to watch for.
Mar 29, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
F1 will continue to visit the Sepang International Circuit until 2018 after a deal was signed on Sunday.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT
Graham Rahal breaks up the Penske juggernaut and leads IndyCar warmup at St. Petersburg.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
All three drivers sanctioned by the stewards for misdemeanors in today’s race.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Red Bull endures a miserable day in Malaysia, scoring just three points in total.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Simply finishing the race must go down as an incredible achievement for Manor.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Did a mistake in Q1 on Saturday cost Lewis Hamilton a chance to win the Malaysian Grand Prix?
Mar 29, 2015, 7:15 AM EDT
Breaking the record by over two years, Max Verstappen cemented his place in the F1 history books in Malaysia on Sunday.
Mar 29, 2015, 6:30 AM EDT
Ferrari team principal oversees his first victory since taking the helm at Maranello.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:56 AM EDT
German driver didn’t expect his challenge to Ferrari in Australia to be taken up so quickly.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:36 AM EDT
British driver humble in defeat after losing out to Vettel and Ferrari in Malaysia.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:19 AM EDT
German driver claims a superb win in Malaysia in just his second race for Ferrari.
Mar 29, 2015, 4:46 AM EDT
Ferrari claims its first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix as Vettel perfects his strategy to win at Sepang.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:34 AM EDT
Fuel system problem sidelines the Briton on Sunday for Manor.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:15 AM EDT
Join us on NBCSN and Live Extra for all of the action from Malaysia as Lewis Hamilton goes in search of another race win.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:00 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton will lead the grid away at Sepang on Sunday.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
It was a double dose of Force in Saturday’s final rounds of qualifying for the sixth-annual NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT
Roundup of the rest of Saturday’s action from St. Petersburg.
- What to watch for: IndyCar at St. Petersburg 0
- Emotional Vettel revels in first victory for Ferrari 4
- Vettel claims shock win for Ferrari in Malaysia as Mercedes pays for strategy mistake 7
- NHRA: C. Force, Todd, McGaha and Arana Jr. qualify No. 1 for 4-Wide Nationals eliminations 0
- Teaser clip: F1 on NBC’s “Off the Grid” hits Mexico (VIDEO) 1
- Power on pole in Penske top-four sweep of St. Petersburg qualifying 1
- One spectator killed, others injured, at VLN Endurance event in Germany 4