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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Sep 5, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton goes in search of his 11th pole position of the 2015 season at Monza on Saturday.
Sep 5, 2015, 6:07 AM EDT
Hamilton leads the way from Vettel and Rosberg in final practice at Monza.
Sep 5, 2015, 4:45 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton bids to complete a clean sweep of practice sessions on Saturday morning at Monza.
Sep 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Gasly storms to pole ahead of Mitch Evans and Stoffel Vandoorne as American driver Alexander Rossi struggles to P10 on the grid.
Sep 4, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Ecclestone backs Vettel to win a fifth world championship during his time with Ferrari.
Sep 4, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
After being the enemy for the Ferrari fans in the past at Monza, Vettel will now carry their hopes of a home win on his shoulders.
Sep 4, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Despite finishing well clear of the chasing pack on Friday in practice, Hamilton believes he can go faster still.
Sep 4, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button among those running with a sticker paying tribute to Wilson on their helmets at Monza.
Sep 4, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
IndyCar’s season recap airs tonight at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Sep 4, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT
Will Buxton brings you the latest news, interviews and insight from the paddock ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
Sep 4, 2015, 10:26 AM EDT
F1 drivers react to idea of closed cockpits possibly being introduced down the road.
Sep 4, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT
Will Buxton and Jason Swales head to Silverstone to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the British Grand Prix in the latest episode of Off The Grid.
Sep 4, 2015, 9:58 AM EDT
First round of funeral details for Justin Wilson have been confirmed.
Sep 4, 2015, 9:31 AM EDT
Mercedes romps to another one-two finish in FP2 as the rest of the field is left trailing behind.
Sep 4, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT
Jota Sport confirms it will expand its LMP2 programme for 2016 to compete in the full WEC season.
Sep 4, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to double up in FP2 after topping first practice on Friday morning.
Sep 4, 2015, 5:31 AM EDT
Hamilton finishes half a second clear of Rosberg to top FP1 on Friday.
Sep 4, 2015, 3:45 AM EDT
The Italian GP weekend kicks off with FP1 at 4am ET on Friday.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Here’s all the information you need to know about this weekend’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis:
- WATCH LIVE: Italian GP qualifying on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET 0
- Hamilton completes practice clean sweep at Monza 0
- F1 Paddock Pass: Italian Grand Prix (VIDEO) 0
- Off The Grid: Silverstone preview (premieres 9/6 on NBCSN) 0
- Hamilton quickest again in second Italian GP practice 2
- Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two in Italian GP FP1 1
- NHRA: All you need to know about the 61st U.S. Nationals 1