Cain: Busch keeps pedal down after comeback, championship
RELATED: Photos of Kyle's 36 Cup Series victories Kyle Busch showed up in the Texas Motor Speedway media center in the early Sunday morning hours donning the new cowboy hat he had received in Victory Lane a few moments earlier and smiling like a guy who hasn't lost a race in weeks. He is that guy. Busch will arrive in Bristol, Tennessee, this week on a four-race winning streak that includes Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup wins two weeks ago in Martinsville, Va. and an XFINITY Series and Sprint Cup sweep on the Texas high banks this past weekend. He is the first driver since Harry Gant in 1991 to sweep national series events in back-to-back weekends. It's a record ninth time that Busch has swept a race weekend. As Busch joined his Joe Gibbs Racing team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Adam Stevens to answer questions from the media at Texas, he straightened his hat and sat up high in his chair, looking every bit as comfortable in this very familiar position as you might expect. In prefacing my question to Busch, I rattled off some incredible statistics given to the media earlier that night to put Busch's latest victory in perspective. This was his 18th top-five and 22nd top-10 finish in the 32 races since he returned from serious leg and foot injuries suffered in Daytona last season. Because the information was given minutes before Busch took the checkered flag, the win tally didn't reflect the TMS win. Busch's first response was to correct my victory total, "that's seven wins," he said grinning -- almost playful in being eager to set the record straight. And even that correct number is most likely upwardly fleeting. Busch's win at Texas ties him with Matt Kenseth for third-most all-time (36) among active drivers and at a mere 30 years old, Busch will be approaching the retiring Tony Stewart 's 48-win total before long. WATCH: Did Kyle think he could win without a caution? "I think that it's just a part of everyone coming together," Busch said. "It's not just me, it's not just (wife) Samantha, but it's (crew chief) Adam Stevens, it's Coach (Joe) Gibbs, it's the organization and everyone rallying around us. It's my medical team, everyone that helped me, getting me healthy and forcing me to do the therapies and things like that and getting up in the morning and going and trying to get better faster. "I think things are clicking. Things are jelling. It's all worked real well and it's been exciting to have the success that we've had as of late and let's just keep it going." Busch's body of work since his serious injury is among the top efforts he's had in a 12-year full-time Sprint Cup career -- a substantial run that began when Busch was only 18 years old. His title run last year remains among the most amazing in Cup history considering the severity of the injuries and that he missed half a season. He returned to claim the 2015 Sprint Cup championship trophy after winning four out of five races a month after his return from a broken leg and foot suffered in the 2015 season-opening XFINITY Series race in Daytona Beach, Florida. He recorded six top-five finishes in the final 10 races and won the Homestead-Miami finale where he hoisted that championship trophy high. It's entirely possible that Busch extends this impressive streak at Bristol Motor Speedway . Busch has won five times in the Sprint Cup car at Bristol and has 13 top-10 runs in 21 starts. But he's gone eight whole Bristol races without a victory, the longest streak between premier series wins there. He has eight XFINITY Series titles at the half-mile bullring, including four of the last five races. The exception in that span was a "paltry" runner-up finish in the fall of 2014. He has an incredible 18 top-10 runs in 22 XFINITY starts there. And, he has four victories in the Camping World Truck Series races there and finished a near-miss second place last year after winning the pole position. "You're got to have all the pieces of the puzzle put together, but I think more importantly we've got good cars [and] the crew chiefs are just doing a really good job right now," Busch said. "I feel like the (Toyota Racing Development) guys are on top of their game as well. We've got everything going for us. The cars are good, the engines are good and crew chiefs are smart. Again, whole puzzle." Another thing about the hat Busch wore after the race -- it was white. For a guy who typically receives "the guy in the black hat" treatment from the crowd, there was a lot of irony in that. He's a dad now and wants to be a good example for his nearly 1-year old son, Brexton. And when Busch gets booed from the grandstands during driver introductions these days, it's increasingly because he's "winning too much." After the Texas winner's press conference, Gibbs, Stevens and Busch got up to re-join the celebration. As Busch rose to push his chair under the table, he leaned over to catch my attention and reiterated with a smile, "Remember, that was seven [wins]." Yes. And, with the way Busch and his team are performing, it won't be the total for long. MORE: Start Busch this weekend? Get fantasy advice
Kyle Busch extends streak, corrals Texas win
RELATED: Full race results " Updated driver standings STORE: Shop for winning driver gear FORT WORTH, Texas -- Opportunistic Kyle Busch sped away from the rest of the field after a restart with 33 laps left in Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and collected his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. What's more, Busch won his fourth straight NASCAR national series race, having swept last week's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Martinsville Speedway and having won Friday night's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas. "It's pretty darn good, I'll tell you that," Busch said of his streak -- and life. "I've got a great wife, a great son and I'm having a blast, living the dream." Quite simply, the prodigious numbers continue to pile up for the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Busch posted his 36th victory of his Sprint Cup career and his second at Texas, having also swept the spring weekend at the 1.5-mile speedway in 2013. Busch is the second driver to sweep consecutive NASCAR weekends. Harry Gant accomplished the feat in 1991, winning both the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup races on consecutive weekends at Richmond and Dover. With the victory, Busch also virtually secured a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , as he will look to defend the title he won last year. "Our car was really, really fast, especially entry and center of the corner, and as the night progressed, I think the track actually came to us a little bit," said Busch, who took over the series lead by six points over fourth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson . "Our car got a lot better, and (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) made some great adjustments all night long. "We fought it in the beginning. We weren't very good …" Just good enough to win at the end. Dale Earnhardt Jr . came home second after passing eventual third-place finisher Joey Logano for the runner-up spot with eight laps left. Johnson ran fourth, despite a succession of pit road issues, the first of which involved contact with Busch's Toyota during the first pit stops of the race on Lap 30. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott scored a career-best fifth-place finish, one spot ahead of Martin Truex Jr ., who led a race-high 141 laps but lost ground on old tires during the final 33-lap green-flag run. "It hurts a little bit, but we'll just take the positives and move on," said Truex, who was the clear class of the field until divergent pit strategies proved his undoing. Truex and Austin Dillon stayed out on old tires under caution on Lap 290 while all other lead-lap cars came to pit road for fresh tires. Though Truex maintained his lead, the move was disastrous for Dillon, who dropped back rapidly after the restart on Lap 293 and washed up the track racing off Turn 2 in close quarters with Denny Hamlin . Dillon's Chevrolet slid up into the path of Jimmie Johnson , who was unable to avoid contact. Dillon was turned sharply into the outside wall and bounced across the track into oncoming traffic. The resulting 13-car accident damaged all three Richard Childress Racing cars and scrambled the field for the decisive restart on Lap 302. RELATED: Thirteen-car wreck claims all three RCR cars Busch rocketed to the outside at the drop of the green flag, and cleared Logano through Turns 3 and 4 as Truex faded on old rubber. "The restart was going to be key," Busch said. "If I could just get out in front of him, I knew I could protect the rest of the race. They had a good restart, but we got a better one, and I just had to get up on his door. He chose the inside and the inside has been winning the race all night long, but this time, on the last restart, (the outside) finally prevailed for us." Polesitter Carl Edwards led 124 laps but returned to pit road with a loose wheel after a restart on Lap 222 and spent nearly 70 circuits one lap down before working his way back to seventh at the finish. Kasey Kahne , Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10. MORE: All of Kyle's Cup wins
Cain: Martinsville holds promise for Danica Patrick
RELATED: Women racers pave new roads to success in NASCAR There is a bit of irony in Danica Patrick 's Martinsville Speedway resume. A racer who made international headlines and officially became a first-name only reference for nearly winning her Indianapolis 500 debut at one of the world's most famous and grand-sized tracks, Danica bolstered her track record in many eyes by scoring one of her best NASCAR finishes (seventh) on one of stock car racing's smallest (.526-mile), most challenging and endearingly iconic facilities: Martinsville Speedway . Patrick, who celebrated her 34th birthday during the off-week, returns to "The Paperclip" for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series' STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FS1) -- site of a historic seventh-place finish for her only a year ago. The result tied her with the great Janet Guthrie for most NASCAR top-10 finishes (five) by a woman, and two weeks later Patrick made the mark her own, scoring her sixth top 10 -- a ninth-place showing at the sport's second smallest track (.53-mile) in Bristol, Tennessee. RELATED: Janet Guthrie's groundbreaking racing career In fact, Patrick's record at Martinsville makes this challenging shortest of tracks one of her best. She recorded a 12th-place debut in 2012 -- a better first try than some of the sport's greatest champions such as Hall of Famers Rusty Wallace (who finished 15th) and Dale Jarrett (14th) and even Patrick's team owner, three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart , who finished 20th in his first start there. "I came from a road-course racing background and at Martinsville, I feel like you have to set passes up a little bit like that," Patrick said. "I think it's also a track where you have to exercise a lot of discipline. It's easy to make mistakes. It's easy to overdrive and try to get a little bit more when you're passing somebody and make mistakes. Those are the two things I keep in mind when I'm there. I also think you really need a good car there, too, and Stewart-Haas Racing has always had good cars there." This time around Patrick's No. 10 TaxAct Chevy will have a new crew chief, Billy Scott. It's her third crew chief in four seasons as the team searches for the kind of good chemistry and juju to elevate Patrick into the post-season and give her a legitimate shot to score her first Sprint Cup victory. MORE: SHR names new crew chiefs for Danica, Stewart It's already been a challenging start to 2016 with Patrick crashing in two of the opening five races. She was handed a $20,000 fine from NASCAR last week for violating safety rules because she angrily approached and gestured toward Kasey Kahne 's car after they wrecked at California's Auto Club Speedway . Kahne's car hit hers while the two were racing close together. For Patrick, this week is a real opportunity to restore her preferred path to the postseason. By the fifth race in each of her full-time Cup seasons, she has been ranked 29th, 27th and 23rd in the standings and is now 29th again despite two top-20 finishes. The challenge in having another new crew chief is the early season get-to-know-you time. But the other tasks that have dominated Patrick's transition from Indycars to stock cars have become more manageable, giving her and the team great reason to be optimistic. MORE: Danica reacts to SHR move to Ford Especially here. Especially now. "I'm far more confident and comfortable," Patrick said coming into the season. "I'm understanding the car properly and able to help in making it better quickly on the race weekend. "Also the comfort of getting up to speed fast helps that learning curve, too. I remember there were lots of times in the very beginning when I wasn't able to drive the car to the very limit. We'd come in and make changes based on the way that I was driving it. Once I was driving it the way it needed to be, all of a sudden we ended up back where we started. We wasted all practice for me to learn how to do it. "I'm much better at getting up to speed. But always room to improve. I'm still working on doing a better job at that. I think as a driver, we all tend to have our general weak areas and general strong areas. I know mine." That this track has provided some of the most interesting story lines in NASCAR history is only another reason to expect better days. Morgan Shepherd won a pole position here at 45 years old in 1987 and Harry Gant famously won the race in 1991 at the age of 51 and a half. Eleven drivers scored their very first Cup wins at Martinsville -- the last being Ricky Craven in 2001. Notably, the majority of Patrick's top-10 finishes have come after sub-top-20 starts. Her very best Cup showing, for example, a seventh-place finish at Atlanta in 2014, came after starting 27th. "It's twice as hard as it used to be to get to Victory Lane," Patrick said. "It was hard to do it back when I was in IndyCar. I did it once in seven years. It's very challenging. There's lots of great drivers. Experience definitely helps. I'm working on getting that. "I mean, everybody wants to win. ... It's very hard to win in Cup, it just is. Everything's got to go your way and be right and be clicking. That's what also makes it so great when it happens. The blood, sweat and tears to get there. "It's always frustrating, but it's frustrating to just keep wanting to do better. But that's what drives you."
Day 1: Gant leads pack on 20th charity ride
Our daily diary starts with a chat with the popular former Cup driver
Ron Bouchard passes away at age 67
RELATED: Bouchard's standout Modified career Ron Bouchard, winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 and the premier series' rookie of the year that same season, passed away Thursday. He was 67. A family friend and close pal of my fathers Ron Bouchard passed away today. My thoughts and prayers go to his family. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) December 10, 2015 NASCAR made a statement on Thursday regarding the news, "Ron Bouchard's passion for racing was evident from his very early years in NASCAR. Competition fueled Ron, whether racing modifieds at short tracks across the Northeast or winning rookie of the year honors in NASCAR's premier series. He loved this sport, and made an indelible mark on it, one that won’t soon be forgotten. "NASCAR extends its condolences to the friends and family of Ron Bouchard, a true racer." A native of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Bouchard pulled off one of NASCAR's most stunning victories when he shot from third to first on the final lap at Talladega (then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway), passing Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his lone premier series victory. The win came in his 11th career start. He was driving the Jack Beebe-owned Race Hill Farm No. 47 Buick, with crew chief Bob Johnson. Bouchard had taken over the ride earlier in the season following the departure of driver Harry Gant . Bouchard became the 13th different winner in the 13-year history of the summer race at the 2.66-mile track. "Coming off the fourth turn … I was behind Waltrip and Terry when Terry decided to pass Darrell on the outside," Bouchard told reporters following his Talladega victory. "When he moved up, Darrell moved up to get in front of him. When I saw that, I just shot down to the inside … and moved up fast." A standout Modified driver, Bouchard won track championships at Stafford Springs, Thompson and Seekonk speedways before moving up to what was then known as NASCAR's Grand National division. He made 160 starts at NASCAR’s top level, finishing a career-best eighth in points in '82. In addition to his one win, Bouchard scored 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He won the series' rookie title in a class that included Morgan Shepherd , Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman. Seven years later, his brother Ken Bouchard captured the series rookie of the year award as well.
Darlington Raceway wins NMPA Myers Brothers Award
LAS VEGAS -- Darlington Raceway moved forward by going back in 2015. NASCAR's first paved superspeedway paid homage to stock car racing's past when it launched a "throwback" program for this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 , and the move proved to be one of the most talked about, most popular events of the year. So much so that the program has earned the track the National Motorsports Press Association's 2015 Myers Brothers Award. The award was announced Thursday during the annual NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers luncheon at the Wynn Las Vegas. Presented annually by the NMPA, the Myers Brothers Award is named in honor of former NASCAR competitors Billy and Bobby Myers. Its' purpose is to recognize individuals and/or groups who have provided outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing. Others receiving votes for this year's award were four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and 2015 Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch . Darlington Raceway has hosted one or more NASCAR premier series events since 1950. The Southern 500, which returned to its long-held Labor Day weekend date this past season, is considered one of the series' "crown jewel" events. RELATED: Best throwback images " See all the Darlington paint schemes More than 30 cars in this year's 43-car field featured throwback schemes, honoring everything from long-time sponsors to drivers and popular paint schemes from the early 1970s. Several teams got in the act by wearing crew uniforms similar to those worn at the time; concession stand fare included items that were offered at the time and tickets in some sections were even priced similar to that specific time period. Even television partner NBC got in the act, bringing back former announcers Ken Squier and two-time champion Ned Jarrett to call a portion of the race from the broadcast booth. Jarrett’s son, Dale -- a former series champion as well -- joined his father in the booth, marking the first time the two had called a race together. RELATED: Legends in the booth " How Darlington idea came together Track President Chip Wile said at the time that the throwback program is "a five-year platform; this isn't a one-year deal. "We felt like if we could get eight or 10 teams on board to really showcase what we're trying to accomplish, we felt like in 2016 we could get more, in 2017 we would get more and so on," he said. "But the response that we've gotten from everyone in the industry has been incredible." Myers Brothers Award Winners 2015, Darlington Raceway ; 2014, Dale Earnhardt Jr .; 2013, Tony Stewart ; 2012, Jeff Gordon ; 2011, Drs. Joseph & Rose Mattioli; 2010, Jim Hunter; 2009, Barney Hall; 2008, Thomas Taylor Warren; 2007, Bill France Jr.; 2006, Benny Parsons; 2005, Rusty Wallace; 2004, Kyle and Patti Petty; 2003, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 2002, Mike Helton; 2001, Dale Earnhardt; 2000, Kyle Petty; 1999, Junie Donlavey; 1998, T. Wayne Robertson; 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1996, Rick Hendrick; 1995, TNN: The Nashville Network; 1994, Brickyard 400/ Indianapolis Motor Speedway ; 1993, Goody’s Manufacturing Co.; 1992, Richard and Lynda Petty; 1991, Harry Gant ; 1990; Dick Beaty; 1989, Bill France Jr.; 1988 Richmond International Raceway ; 1987, ESPN; 1986, Hayride 500; 1985, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1984, Charlotte Motor Speedway ; 1983, CBS-TV; 1982, Motor Racing Network; 1981, Junior Johnson; 1980, STP & Champion Spark Plug Co.; 1979, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1978, Busch Beer; 1977, First National City Travelers Checks; 1976, Junior Johnson; 1975, Bill France Sr.; 1974, H. Clay Earles; 1973, Wood Brothers; 1972, Winston Cigarettes; 1971, Richard Petty; 1970, Richard Howard; 1969, David Pearson; 1968, Wood Brothers; 1967, Richard Petty; 1966, Norris Friel; 1965, Ned Jarrett; 1964, Richard Petty; 1963, Marvin Panch; 1962, Hank Schoolfield; 1961, Ned Jarrett; 1960, Russ Catlin; 1959, Lee Petty; 1958, Bob Colvin.
Kyle Busch wins NMPA Driver of the Year Award
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch , who rallied from injuries sustained in a season-opening crash to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, has been named the 2015 recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award. Busch, 30, suffered a broken right leg and left foot in a crash during the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway last February. After missing the season’s first 11 points races, the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota returned with a vengeance. He won four of five races, including three straight, during the summer to qualify for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup . In the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Busch beat 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick to win the race and earn his first Sprint Cup championship. In addition to Homestead, Busch also scored wins at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Kentucky Speedway , New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway . It was his first Brickyard 400 title and the fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing . He finished the season with 12 top-five and 16 top-10 results. "I just want to thank the National Motorsports Press Association for voting me as the Richard Petty Driver of the Year," said Busch. "Last year was the most challenging, yet rewarding year of my career. While this honor has my name on it, I don't think it would have possible without the hard work and dedication from everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing , Toyota and TRD. "On the personal side, I can't thank the doctors and everyone at OrthoCarolina enough for helping me get back into racing shape, but also my wife Samantha and my entire family for all they did to get me back on my feet. Just looking at the list of past winners, it’s a tremendous honor to have my name mentioned along with many other great champions of our sport." In addition to his Sprint Cup success, Busch, a team owner in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, also scored six wins in the XFINITY Series and two in the Truck Series. Others receiving votes were Jeff Gordon ( Hendrick Motorsports ), Joey Logano ( Team Penske ), Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ). Busch was presented the award Jan. 17 during the NMPA's annual convention in Concord, N.C. The Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award has been presented each year since 1969 and is determined by a vote of the NMPA membership. It is named in honor of Petty, a seven-time champion and the all-time win leader in NASCAR with 200 career premier series victories. Richard Petty Driver of the Year Recipients 2015, Kyle Busch ; 2014, Kevin Harvick ; 2013, Jimmie Johnson ; 2012, Brad Keselowski ; 2011, Tony Stewart ; 2010, Jimmie Johnson ; 2009, Jimmie Johnson ; 2008, Carl Edwards ; 2007, Jimmie Johnson ; 2006, Jimmie Johnson ; 2005, Tony Stewart ; 2004, Jimmie Johnson ; 2003, Ryan Newman ; 2002, Tony Stewart ; 2001, Kevin Harvick ; 2000, Bobby Labonte ; 1999, Dale Jarrett; 1998, Jeff Gordon ; 1997, Dale Jarrett; 1996, Terry Labonte ; 1995, Jeff Gordon ; 1994, Dale Earnhardt; 1993, Rusty Wallace; 1992, Davey Allison; 1991, Harry Gant ; 1990, Dale Earnhardt; 1989, Mark Martin ; 1988, Rusty Wallace; 1987, Dale Earnhardt; 1986, Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt; 1985, Bill Elliott ; 1984, Terry Labonte ; 1983, Bobby Allison; 1982, Darrell Waltrip; 1981, Darrell Waltrip; 1980, Dale Earnhardt; 1979, Cale Yarborough; 1978, Cale Yarborough; 1977, Cale Yarborough; 1976, Darrell Waltrip; 1975, Richard Petty; 1974, Richard Petty; 1973, David Pearson; 1972, Bobby Allison; 1971, Bobby Allison; 1970, Bobby Isaac; 1969, LeeRoy Yarbrough.
Stewart to retire from Sprint Cup Series after 2016
RELATED: Photos of Stewart through the years " Bowyer tabbed as replacement Three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart smiled and conceded it was a "formality at this point" in announcing Wednesday afternoon that he would step away from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition following the 2016 season. "It was a choice that is 100 percent mine, no pressure from anybody," Stewart said of his decision not to compete full-time anymore. "If anything, it's been the opposite, more people trying to talk me out of it. "Everyone in their career makes a decision when it's time for a change. I think deep down you know when it's time to do something different and make a change like this." Appearing jovial and without a hint of second-thought about his career decision, Stewart joked he was bringing Harry Gant out of retirement to drive the the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy in 2017, then confirmed that actually Clint Bowyer would be taking over his seat. The news confirmed months of speculation and rumor about Stewart's future and solidified Bowyer's career path as well with Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team closing operations at the end of 2015. "It's all about people, all about culture for me, and I don't think the fit factor could be any better," said Bowyer, acknowledging the SHR ride was "one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport" and said an announcement is coming later this week about his 2016 plans. Wednesday was clearly more about "the people's champion" as Stewart is often referred. One of the most popular and accomplished champions to ever compete in NASCAR's marquee series, Stewart, 44, has won three premier series titles as a driver (2002, 2005, 2011) and two as an owner (2011, 2014), accumulated 48 victories and won over countless hearts as a kind of extreme throw-back talent garnering comparisons to racing's all-time greats such as A.J. Foyt and Dale Earnhardt. Quite simply, Stewart won in every car he drove. And NASCAR fans always appreciated that about the driver known by his nickname, "Smoke." RELATED: Drivers react to Stewart's announcement Stewart won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 15 straight seasons from his 1999 rookie year through 2013, and he has 11 NASCAR XFINITY Series wins in 94 starts -- roughly winning once every 10 times he tried. He won twice in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and had five top-10 finishes. "When I think of Tony Stewart , unmatched passion and a pure love of the sport come to mind," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a release. "He has won championships and millions of fans. But he has given back so much more, and that's what I admire most. Today's news was bittersweet for all, but we know Tony will continue to be a big part of our sport in his roles as a team and track owner. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Tony for his many years of excellence and competitiveness, and wish him nothing but the best in his final season as a driver in the Sprint Cup Series." The 1997 IndyCar champion -- and 1996 Indy 500 Rookie of the Race -- proved his mettle against motorsports' best drivers, winning four times in IROC competition, earning the 2006 IROC championship and finishing runner-up in 2001. In 1999 he completed racing's Memorial Day "Double," finishing ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and fourth in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 later that same day in North Carolina. Stewart was the first driver in history to win all three major United States Auto Club national championships -- Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown -- in a single season. So after essentially four decades behind the wheel fulltime, Stewart said he contemplated this decision for a while and said this week, he is completely at peace. "I've learned a lot about myself," Stewart said. You run through the range of emotions. There's days you're like, I can't wait, and then there's days that are like, man, do I ‑‑ you battle back and forth. "I'm not leaving the sport I love. I'm not walking away from something I'm passionate about, I'm just changing roles, which it's like just moving to a different position in a company. "I'm not really retiring, I'm just changing positions." RELATED: Best quotes from Stewart's press conference It's been an admittedly uphill climb for the champ after the last three seasons of horrible injury and extreme heartbreak. He missed the last 15 races in the 2013 season after suffering a compound leg fracture while competing in a sprint car race. Then last year, while still mending from that injury, Stewart was involved in another sprint car accident. This time, another competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., was killed when, after approaching Stewart's car on track during a caution period, the car struck Ward. Stewart sat out three Sprint Cup races immediately after. No criminal charges were found to be justified against Stewart; the Ward family filed a civil lawsuit against him a year later. On Wednesday Stewart stressed that his decision to stop driving in the Cup series full-time had "zero percent to with (the Ward situation)" and that physically, "my leg feels fine, there's nothing wrong with my leg." He said he may even compete in Sprint cars again. He listed the Rolex 24 at Daytona as a possibility and mentioned racing modifieds and making sporadic starts in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series -- all things he plans to do without the stress and full schedule of racing full-time in the Sprint Cup ranks. RELATED: Tony talks toll on leg, life In the past two seasons, Stewart has struggled to post the kind of top-shelf results both he and his fans had grown accustomed to seeing. But he has consistently insisted that was more to do with the current rules package than his off-track distractions. He said earlier this year that NASCAR's new high downforce, low horsepower car does not suit his style and is actually "the opposite of everything I've ever driven. "It's like I'm in the middle of a calculus equation and I didn't take pre-calculus,'' Stewart told NASCAR.com this May. He is currently 25th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings with a sub-standard two top-10 finishes in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet this year. But he was adamant that he would not be coasting in his final season and that this decision was not "performance based." Stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His resume out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. "It's just time to do what we're doing," Stewart said. "I still fully anticipate we're going to get things turned around. If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't waste my time next year for anybody. I'm not a guy that's going to get in a car and ride. We're full steam ahead. "We're going to keep working and try to win as many races as we can next year, and that goal is going to be ‑‑ when you guys get to February, go ahead and write this down, what our goals are for the year, we're going to try to win races, try to win the Daytona 500 , then the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, and try to win a championship." Ultimately, stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His effort out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. His namesake Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team is the reigning Sprint Cup owner champion thanks to Kevin Harvick 's 2014 championship run, and two of his team's four drivers -- Harvick and Kurt Busch -- are in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . This summer Stewart collected his 10th Knoxville Nationals trophy in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series fielding a car for driver Donny Schatz, who has also delivered five World of Outlaw championships for Stewart. He has 23 national titles as a team owner. "I've won more car championships as an owner than a driver," Stewart said "I'm definitely as competitive as an owner as I am a driver. …That fire's still there and that's what makes this transition easier." While his success driving and fielding cars is partly responsible for Stewart's incredible popularity over the years, he is also one of the sport's most robust personalities. RELATED: 'Smoke' still the people's champion He's not afraid to express his displeasure at his competitors' blunders, and the other drivers have come to expect either face time or bumper time with him after on track run-ins. And Stewart's "no-fools" tolerance policy extends to the media covering his career. There are highlight reels devoted to showcasing him sparring with reporters in press conferences and on pit road -- his wit and sarcasm legendary with the media corps. He grinned broadly and warned the room of reporters on Wednesday that he will not follow the guide of four-time champ Jeff Gordon who has met with the press nearly every week during this -- his last -- year of NASCAR competition. "Let's establish this right now: I will not be coming to the media center every week to talk about it,'" Stewart said smiling and shaking his head. "You can save your gifts. I've got enough rocking chairs at home as it is. I bought those when I wanted to go sit on my own rocking chair. You don't have to give me one. "I'm content to go race and be around the racing community and the racing family and be around our fans," he continued. "They can just send me a note from the track president and say, hey, thank you, and that'll be sufficient for me. "I think it's been very fitting for Jeff [Gordon]. I don't think I'm worthy of that kind of admiration because I think Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again. I think that kind of celebration is reserved for somebody like Jeff." One thing Stewart has across the board is respect -- from his competitors, to the fans and to the media who will be watching closely to see how this next chapter in his career and life plays out. He gave a couple hints on Wednesday afternoon. When it's time to drop the green flag for the 2017 Daytona 500 – the first one run without Tony Stewart on the grid since 1999 – the champ says he hasn't figured out quite yet where he'll be, but spoke about one possibility. "I'll probably be on some fan's motor home on the back stretch promoting our sponsors," Stewart said laughing. "I have no idea where I'm supposed to be yet. I've got a whole year to figure that out."
What if Darlington race included throwback drivers?
RELATED: Darlington throwback paint schemes Darlington's throwback theme for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 already is a hit with racers and fans alike, bringing out the creativity in the industry with special paint schemes and providing opportunities to honor great racers who have gone before. But what if along with those throwback paint schemes, like Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s Valvoline No. 88 nod to Cale Yarborough and Clint Bowyer 's No. 15 salute to recently passed Buddy Baker, we could actually bring back the NASCAR legends themselves for this one race. Who would you pick? Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman could fill the whole 43-car field with legendary race car drivers. He won seven premier series championships with Richard Petty and an eighth with Terry Labonte , competing against some of the most storied personalities in the sport. "Damn, I've seen 'em all. I don't know …" Inman said of trying to choose just one driver to place in a throwback ride. "Earnhardt Sr. was good there you know." Bowyer, too, wished Earnhardt Sr. could join the field at the 2015 Southern 500. "Obviously for me it would be Earnhardt for me because we lost him, you know. That's first and foremost. Anyone you ever lost is who you'd want to bring back." But Bowyer said bringing back the man with the most wins (47) and most poles (47) at Darlington, David Pearson, would be the ultimate measuring stick for today's Sprint Cup drivers. "Pearson … man, what a character and just a genuine badass and an aggressive and successful racer. Anytime you have someone who's successful in the sport you make a living in, you want to be able to see what he had, what he's made of and see how you stack up." Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing , fondly remembers those days with Pearson driving the No. 21 Purolator Mercury. Pearson drove for the Woods Brothers from 1972-79 and won seven times at "The Lady in Black" during that span with two runner-up finishes. "That was his place," Wood said of Pearson's dominance at the South Carolina track. "The hotter the better for David. He liked it HOT, so we'd have to run in the daytime for him." RELATED: Drivers, officials, fans pumped for throwback weekend Inman attributed some of Pearson's success at the track also called "Too Tough To Tame" to his ability to take care of his equipment. This was extra difficult, as Inman recalled, because the track promoter sometimes would put bear's grease on the track between Saturday's practice and Monday's race. Blue laws prevented NASCAR from running on Sundays in South Carolina then. "Pearson just had a knack for taking care of the car. He always had a good car too," Inman said. "At least most of the time. For Darlington we put bars under the fenders. You knew you were gonna hit the wall, so we just put bars in and just bolted them to the right side. But the guard rail wasn't smooth like it is now. And they'll wear the sides out this time with the low downforce package." Aside from the drivers who racked up at the track, including Richard Petty and Buck Baker, Inman said Parnelli Jones' performance at Darlington had lasting impact on the racing there. "Parnelli Jones came out here in maybe 1956 or 57 was the first one to really use the high bank to what it is now. I remember him just sliding up to the fence. He didn't finish, of course." Jones crashed at Darlington in both 1956 and 1957. He finished 50th in a field of 70 cars in 1956 in the No. 1 Torrance Motors Ford and 34th in the No. 11 Ford owned by Oscar Maples in 1957. In 1958, Jones did finish the Southern 500 running, coming in 18th in a field of 48 cars during his last race there. The list of great performances at Darlington is nothing short of epic. Just the list of winners sends any racing fan on a long ride down memory lane: Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen, Bobby Allison, Fonty Flock, Neil Bonnett, Benny Parsons, Harry Gant . How would they stack up against Jeff Gordon , the active driver with the most wins at Darlington (seven)? "Herb Thomas and Buck Baker were both really good," Inman added to the list. "But Herb had it as good as anyone in those old Hudson Hornets that Marshall Teague built, and I think he won in a Chevrolet, too." Now that would be an entirely different kind of throwback idea. Run at Darlington again in restored Chevrolets, Fords, Hornets, Plymouths, Pontiacs and Dodges.
Four consecutive wins rare but achievable for Logano
RELATED: Logano's chances, other Chase drivers, at Martinsville MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Joey Logano , riding a clean sweep of the Eliminator Round of this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup , will attempt to become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson to win four consecutive races in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series when the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 gets underway Sunday at Martinsville Speedway . He'll begin that quest from a prime position, having won his sixth Coors Light Pole Award pole of the season on Friday. Logano, who was fifth fastest in the opening round and fastest overall in the second and third rounds, also won the pole here in the spring event. Four wins in a row might be a tall order, but it is not an impossible task. Johnson wheeled his way to four straight during the 2007 Chase, a decade after teammate Jeff Gordon went 4-0 during the summer of '98. It happened as early as 1964 when driver Billy Wade won four in a row while teamed with Hall of Fame team owner Bud Moore. Twelve drivers have enjoyed such a run of success, with only David Pearson, the Silver Fox, and Richard Petty, the King, doing so twice. Two drivers on the list, Dale Earnhardt and Harry Gant , scored their fourth wins here at Martinsville. "Our ultimate goal is to win the championship, and if we can win four in a row, great," Logano said Friday prior to practice at the .526-mile track. "We've been on an amazing roll here lately, which has been pretty spectacular." Logano, 25, won the season-opening Daytona 500 , then didn't win again until Watkins Glen in August. Before the month had ended, however, he was back in Victory Lane at Bristol. He had finishes of sixth, third and 10th in the opening round of the Chase to advance into the Contender Round. The Team Penske driver has not been beaten since, winning at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega and setting himself up to add his name to an impressive NASCAR list. "This race track has been another good ... track for us," said Logano, who has finishes of fourth, fifth and third in his last three Martinsville races. "We haven't won here yet (he finished second in '10) but it's been a good track for us the last few times we've been here. We've qualified well and ran up front here in the spring, just didn't quite have the car good enough to win." Fellow driver Kyle Busch nearly pulled off the four-win trick earlier this year, winning at Kentucky, Loudon and Indianapolis. In his attempt at four straight, he finished 21st at Pocono. "It's definitely a zone," Gordon, a four-time series champion, said earlier this week. "I'm pretty sure that Joey probably said, 'I didn't anticipate going to Talladega and winning at Talladega.' Sometimes when you're in that zone, you're fighting hard to win ... you have the car to be able to win it, the team to win it. WATCH: Gordon's competitive fire burns "You go to another one, you don't think you have it, you're still finding your way into Victory Lane. Next thing you know, you feel like you can win every race. "It's amazing how hard it is to get yourself to that level of confidence. When you get there, it can carry you for a long way." The potential fallout from on-track contact/conduct -- Logano and Matt Kenseth ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) seem to have a budding feud after incidents at Kansas and Talladega -- isn't a concern, Logano said, although the tight confines of Martinsville make it a choice stop for settling differences on the race track. "We're focused in on winning the race," he said. "That's what we can control. We can't control anybody else's thinking or what's in their mind. "We have to think about how we advance and how we win this weekend, in particular. That's what we've been focused on all week. We're not going to change that."