Making the Grade: A Preview of the Probable 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Top 12 (Part 8 of 12)
Aggressive and cunning, calculating and innovative, and an aritst whose works are best done with a steering wheel, a strong motor, and a gas pedal that refuses to get all the horsepower and speed out of a car.
Those are some of the ways to describe the A.J. Foyt of our generation and that honor belongs to Anthony Wayne Stewart aka Tony, or as someone affectionately calls him, "The Monkey Man" (because of how he owned a monkey named "Mojo). Whether it's an open wheel car at Indianapolis or a high winged World of Outlaws sprint car somewhere in the Midwest (let's say Eldora or at Tulsa for the Chili Bowl), this man is born to drive and to get the most out of his cars for victories.
Stewart demonstrated that drive when he absolutely dropped the hammer to bat .500 in the Chase in 2011 en route to that year's Sprint Cup title, his third overall championship in NASCAR's most premier level. When the odds looked like they were against him and when he even counted himself out of the running, he absolutely showed that very few things can get in his way. That's what 47 career victories and a career average finishing position of 12.6 translates to with a career nearing 15 seasons.
Although Stewart nabbed three wins and scored another solid top-10 points standings finish in 2012, most of the misfortunes that the No. 14 team avoided in their 2011 season cropped up. From engine ailments, crashes, and some off-days at tracks where "Smoke" previously succeeded at, like Jeff Gordon's season, it was a case of digging out of a hole that was just too deep.
Some of their struggles could be in part with Stewart acquainting with a new crew chief in the form of Steve Addington (yes, the one who served in that same role with the Busch brothers). It takes time for a driver-crew chief combination to truly hit it off and perhaps with a season under the belt, they'll break their Gen-6 Chevy SS in no time.
There's virtually very few weaknesses with Stewart, who excels at about every track on the circuit. Restrictor plate tracks, short tracks, intermediates, and road courses don't scare Stewart at all - he welcomes them and grabs each asphalt arena by the horns.
All the tools and resources are there for Stewart to rebound and absolutely bounce back in 2013 after a middling season last year. Sponsorship isn't an issue as Mobil 1 returns to the team and Bass Pro Shops elevates from an associate sponsor to a new co-primary sponsor for Smoke. About the only distraction will be the one that he's had since 2009 and that's being able to give himself and his teammates 110% - and well, that's not going to be an issue at all.
For the present time, Stewart and his No. 14 team will most likely place fifth in this year's championship standings. Anything is possible and perhaps this group will do a lot more than expected - but TPF is willing to make a bold prediction here: Tony Stewart will win this year's Daytona 500.
After all, it's got to happen for one of the sport's greatest drivers, whose resume would be nearly complete if he gets a Daytona 500 championship. If there's anyone who can fend off the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and all the restrictor plate aces, it's Tony Stewart, who's got so much racing left in him, as long as he's breathing, he'll be somewhere in the country getting all his high octane fill.