Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart’s career came to an end at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
Now, the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing will embrace life beyond racing stock cars and focus on team ownership duties with Gene Haas and continue his career as a dirt track competitor.
Car No.: 14
Crew Chief: Mike Bugarewicz
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
Points Finish: 15th
2016 Quick Summary: In January, Stewart suffered a burst fracture in a vertebra in his back while dune buggy-ing in Southern California. He sat out the first eight races of the season, including the Daytona 500, which he had never won in his 18-year Cup career.
After Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon shared substitution time in the No. 14, Stewart made his 2016 debut at Richmond International Raceway, where he finished 19th. He wasn’t making much noise on the track in the subsequent races until he won his first race in three years at Sonoma Raceway.
It looked like the vintage “Smoke” was back after the victory in Northern California, and he posted top-five results in four of the next six races. However, he lost steam heading into the Chase and was eliminated after the opening Round of 16.
Stewart made his final Cup start in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. As cars rolled off pit road before the race, race officials and crew members from every team high-fived the 45-year-old racer as he headed onto the track. He saluted the crowd during the warm-up laps by leading the field around before the green flag waved.
2016 Highlight(s): In his swan song season, Stewart had a few memorable moments.
The Sonoma win was arguably the feel-good moment of the season, not just for him — but all of NASCAR. Although he didn’t know it would be the last win of his career, it was evident he savored every second of his celebration in Victory Lane that day, as if it were his last.
Stewart had another sentimental moment in the summer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he and Jeff Gordon went around the 2.5-mile track after the race to salute the fans. The two were rivals throughout their careers, but they showed admiration and respect for each other with their parade lap and then when they climbed out of their cars and embraced on pit road.
“To share that moment with Jeff here at Indianapolis, I don’t know,” Stewart said post race. “I don’t even have the words for it. That is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Stewart also celebrated SHR teammate Kevin Harvick‘s victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in August after he invited him to do a burnout with him after the race.
2016 Lowlight(s): Stewart’s back injury was an immediate setback on his final Cup season, and it prevented him from having one last chance at a Daytona 500 victory. He ended his NASCAR career without a win in “The Great American Race,” which is widely regarded as the most prestigious event in stock car racing.
Also, an early exit from the Chase was not the way he hoped to end his season. He didn’t have a storybook ending like Gordon, who made it to the Championship 4 at Homestead last year, but he didn’t need it (not to say Gordon needed it, either.) But some might argue his lack of Chase advancement was disappointing in his final chance at a fourth title.
2017 Outlook: Stewart won’t be behind the wheel of the No. 14 anymore; that’s for Clint Bowyer, who comes over from the now-defunct HScott Motorsports, to drive in 2017. SHR will switch from Chevrolet to Ford for the upcoming season and Stewart says he’ll still be many of the races throughout the year.
His stock car career is over, but he isn’t retired from racing. He’ll continue to compete in sprint car races at dirt tracks across the country and he owns the famous Eldora Speedway in Ohio. If fans want to see him race, they still can.
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