MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Confusion was the first thing Tony Stewart felt upon crossing the finish line in a 360 sprint-car race on July 18 at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Mich.
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, hadn’t raced a sprint car since he broke his right leg after hitting a slower car during a race on Aug. 5, 2013 at Southern Iowa Speedway.
This time out, Stewart just wanted to have a good time. He’d restarted third for the final run to the finish, made a pass for second and thought he was the runner-up to Dustin Daggett.
Stewart didn’t see Daggett get run off-course by a lapped car near the end of the race, because he was battling for second.
“When I got into second, I didn’t even realize that was the pass for the lead and the win,” Stewart said. “I was surprised. I thought we ran second, and that definitely would’ve been a solid run and I would’ve been happy with that.
“It was kind of weird. I came around to take the white flag, the flagman dropped the white when I got there, which I thought was odd. I thought, ‘Well, maybe he just missed the leader.’ Then when I came around to take the checkered, he was still waving the white flag, and then pulled it back and dropped the checkered on us. I thought, ‘Surely we didn’t just win the race.”
He’d done just that. Stewart looked at the scoreboard and saw his No. 14 in first place.
Suddenly, his feelings of relief at finishing second turned into shock. Stewart had his first win of 2014 in a car he’d just wanted to race for the sake of enjoyment.
It was a confidence boost for a driver who badly needed one. Stewart’s Sprint Cup season hasn’t met his expectations, with two top-five and six-top 10 finishes and a 19th-place ranking in points. Stewart, however, believes the sprint-car win might help turn around his Sprint Cup fortunes.
“It was a great feeling,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t so much the win as it was a great feeling to run the whole night.”
Stewart didn’t stop there. He finished third in a race the following night at Crystal (Mich.) Motor Speedway.
It was an eventful off-weekend for Stewart, who has a busy week coming up: Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, hosts a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Wednesday, then Stewart races the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday.
It’s the life Stewart enjoys, going from track to track. All he wants now is to win more races.
“Any time you win, it’s a real boost to your confidence,” Stewart said.