Tony Stewart’s Top 5
by Tom Jensen May 17, 2021
In a Hall of Fame career, Tony Stewart had many great races. Here are five of his very best.
On May 20, Hall of Famer Tony Stewart (2020) reaches a milestone birthday as the three-time premier series champion and Indiana native turns 50 years old.
Stewart’s legacy as a driver, team owner, track operator, promoter and businessman is truly remarkable. His versatility in the cockpit drew comparisons to his childhood hero, A.J. Foyt. Even after his retirement from NASCAR driving, Stewart can still be found behind the wheel of sprint cars or in the offices of Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR team he co-owns with Gene Haas.
There are many ways to describe the man known to all as “Smoke,” but one word sums up his brilliant career: racer.
So in honor of Stewart’s 50th birthday, here are his top five NASCAR moments.
5. Sonoma Raceway, 2016
First victories are understandably emotional, but last wins can be huge, too. Such was the case at Northern California’s Sonoma Raceway, where Tony Stewart broke an 84-race losing streak that dated back to 2013 by winning the 2016 Toyota/Save-Mart 350. And Stewart did it in dramatic fashion, passing former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin while trading paint on the last turn of the last lap after Hamlin had taken the lead half a lap earlier.
The win was even more poignant given that Stewart had missed the first eight races of the year after breaking his back in an off-road crash in January.
Afterwards, Stewart credited his Stewart-Haas Racing team. “My guys have been through this whole disastrous roller coaster the last three or four years and never backed down,” said Stewart. “They’ve never quit on me. There’s days I’ve quit on myself and they’re the guys that send you text messages and call you when you get home like ‘Hey, this isn’t over.’ I’m proud for them, and it meant more for me to get it for them than for myself.”
4. Indianapolis Motor Speedway / Charlotte Motor Speedway, 2001
After coming close two years earlier, Tony Stewart did something that’s never been done before or since: Finish on the lead lap of both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
At Indianapolis, Stewart drove one of Chip Ganassi’s open-wheel cars to a sixth-place finish in the Indy 500. Then he flew to Charlotte, hopped in a Pontiac owned by fellow Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs (2020) and finished third. Stewart’s double-duty helmets are featured in his Hall of Honor artifact case at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I finished sixth in the (Indianapolis) 500 and was leading when the rain came – had a legitimate chance to win that race, which is all you can ask for,” said Stewart. “Then went to Charlotte and drove from the back to end up third.”
3. Charlotte Motor Speedway, 2009
When Tony Stewart announced in 2008 that he was going to become a 50 percent owner of what then was called Haas Automation Racing, folks thought he lost his mind. Stewart had a secure gig driving for Joe Gibbs and Gene Haas had never won a race or had one of his drivers finish in the top 20 in points.
But with Stewart on board, the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing was fast right out of the box. It didn’t take long for Stewart to find Victory Lane, capturing the 2009 NASCAR All-Star Race and giving many SHR crewmembers their first NASCAR win ever.
“The one thing that stuck out the most was watching grown men in Victory Lane with tears in their eyes,” Stewart said. “They had been a part of the sport for a long time and had been with Haas Automation Racing that had never been to Victory Lane. To sit there and be able to take those guys to Victory Lane for the first time, that’s what meant the world to me – seeing those guys, being there and being the guy that takes them there for the first time.”
2. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2005
To be an Indiana native and a racer, there is no greater dream than winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track that hosted its first Indianapolis 500 way back in 1911. For Tony Stewart, winning at Indy was a dream, an obsession and an exercise in frustration.
Entering the 2005 season, Stewart had competed at the legendary track in five Indy 500s, four International Race of Champions (IROC) events and six Brickyard 400s, never managing to reach Victory Lane, despite a number of strong performances.
The frustration ended in 2005, when Stewart passed Kasey Kahne late in the race to win the Brickyard 400 for the first time.
“You dream about something for so long, you become consumed by it,” said Stewart. “When I was in USAC trying to make a living as a race-car driver, I drove a tow truck for a guy I raced sprint cars against. I would drive down Georgetown (Road) toward 16th Street, parallel with the (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) frontstretch, and wonder what it would be like 300 feet to the left running 200 mph.
You dream about something for so long, you become consumed by it.
— Tony Stewart
“I got a chance to do that, and finally, after years of trying to win, be it in Indy cars or stock cars, I got to know what it feels like, to see that view coming down the front straightaway, seeing the checkered flag and knowing that I was the first driver to cross the stripe, versus the second, third or fourth-place guy. I had wanted that moment for so long, and I finally got it."
1. Homestead-Miami Speedway, 2011
In a career filled with great moments, the absolute pinnacle came in the season-ending race of 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stewart entered the 2011 playoffs winless in 26 regular season races, but then caught lightning in a bottle, winning four of the first nine playoff races.
To capture the 2011 championship, Stewart had to defeat rival Carl Edwards in the last race at Homestead. But early in the race, Stewart’s Chevrolet received collision damage. That and a couple of bad pit stops sent Stewart to the rear of the field three times. Undaunted, Stewart passed 118 cars en route to his record fifth playoff win and his third championship.
“I don’t know how you would ever top – at least for my career – the championship run and the 2011 championship race at Homestead,” said Stewart. “There were so many things that happened that night.”
Stewart passed 118 cars en route to his record fifth playoff win and his third championship.
— Tom Jensen
Stewart’s race- and championship-winning 2011 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet is on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Hall of Honor.