Posted: Tuesday January 18, 2011 4:25PM ; Updated: Tuesday January 18, 2011 6:46PM
Tom Bowles
Tom Bowles>INSIDE NASCAR

NASCAR's proposed points change, Stewart's uncertain future, more (cont.)

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Tony Stewart's recent troubles in Australia are hardly the sort of press he was looking for.
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Your little blurb about Tony Stewart may be the stupidest thing I have ever read in my life.

Will he win another championship? I don't know. I doubt it. I give him a 5 percent chance in the next five years. But to say he is not a factor? Have you looked at his stats? His days of winning six races a year are pretty close to being over, but he is still finishing in the top 10 more often than most of the other drivers in NASCAR. He was top 8 in both top 10s and top 5s last year. In 2009, he had four wins, 23 top 10s and 15 top 5s. Oh, and he led the points most of the year as well. Do you think that sounds like a driver who is a non-factor? Maybe your definition of "non-factor" is different than mine.
-- Anthony Hoff

You're right in that your definition of "non-factor" is different than mine. What did the mailbag just lead with? Why none other than the points, the prestige of the Chase and winning the title. For the last five years, Stewart has not been in contention to take that championship, at least heading into the season's final race. He remains an 0-fer with the Daytona 500 and, more importantly, sits fourth in the Chevy pipeline of popularity/accomplishments as of late, trailing Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. One could argue that Jeff Gordon or even Mark Martin (when you take 2009 into account) could put up a good fight against him for that spot.

My definition of "factor" is someone who's feared as a potential race winner every Sunday, stays dominant within the manufacturer he works for, makes the highlight reels every which way you look, and remains within striking distance of title contention until the season's final few weeks. Leading 414 and 537 laps, respectively, the last two seasons -- Stewart's lowest totals since 2001 -- combined with a surprising hesitance to get aggressive on-track means he doesn't qualify, as great an owner/driver as he has been. Give me all the top-10 figures you want, but "Smoke" doesn't get his jollies from finishing eighth every week, I can tell you that.

Also, turns out our temperamental friend isn't just up and down with the media as of late. Media reports in Australia spoke of an off-track altercation while Stewart was moonlighting there last week, a fight that led to a helmet getting thrown at Sydney Speedway co-owner Brett Morris. Police initially arrested Stewart, then released him, which allowed the U.S. driver to jump on a flight back to the States. But any charges filed in the case would necessitate an Australian court appearance , one that could, conceivably, cause Stewart to miss practice, qualifying, even perhaps a race next year depending on the resulting circumstances. Not exactly the type of news that "Smoke" wanted to put him back on center stage in NASCAR.

I do not understand your revelation that "Tony Stewart will never achieve another NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship." This is not true at all. If you remember back to his beginnings with Joe Gibbs Racing, it took Smoke four full NASCAR seasons to win his first championship. He is in the same mode right now with Stewart-Haas.

Stewart is always a threat and every Sunday is competing to win and is learning to build up his relationship with crew chief Darian Grubb, and better the No. 14 team. Smoke can drive any type of car, and presumably win at it. His Chase last year was not reflective of his talent nor desire to win an R&D Championship. Mark my words, Smoke will win many races in 2011, and may pull off the upset of the Jimmie Johnson reign.
-- Tim Duffin, Lancaster, Calif.

And Tim Duffin has spoken! While it's true Stewart has whipped the Haas team into shape since he bought into it after the 2008 season, those 2010 numbers (just two wins, 17 top-10s, 7th in points) were clearly a regression from four wins, 23 top-10s, and 6th in final points the year before. Stewart may have won the last non-Johnson title in 2005, but that's hardly a sign he'll bookend the reign of the No. 48. And by the way, comparing Stewart's first four years on tour (when he had no experience) to his first four years as an owner (which haven't even happened yet) don't hold water with me.

I only agree on one point, and one point only: 2011 will be key for this man and his program. With Ryan Newman failing to make the Chase last year, the third time must be a charmer for SHR if it is to retain Newman and keep Stewart relevant on the NASCAR landscape.

Do you see Tony Stewart as taking, what for him could be considered a down year in 2010 and using it as a basis for shifting his focus on just being a full-time owner? Granted, if he wins the championship in 2011, the issue might be moot for a few more years. But, what if he has another "non-Tony" year? Could this mark the beginning of Tony Stewart the Owner, not Tony Stewart the Driver?
-- Jeff Thiebert, Arlington, Va.

That's a great, loaded question. Stewart publicly has denied every which way he'll ever compete in, let alone attempt to win another Indy 500. But if momentum continues shifting in IndyCar's direction, that combined with new chassis and engine rules might make Indy a more attractive prospect in 2012, perhaps 2013. At this point, Stewart's proved everything he's set out to on the NASCAR side, apart from a Daytona 500 victory. With Stewart turning 40 in May, you wonder if he'll focus more on the races he wants to run in coming years, combined with dabbling in IndyCar from time to time and building up the Eldora dirt track he owns in Ohio. You can definitely see, at points, he might be getting sick of the grind.

Do full-time Sprint Cup drivers have to contend for the Sprint Cup Championship under the new rule requiring drivers to choose one series only to score points? In other words, could Brad Keselowski declare his intent to race for the Nationwide title, but still run a full-time Cup schedule, just without the prospect of winning the title? And the obvious follow-up ... would that be appealing to guys like Kes or maybe Paul Menard or Joey Logano, who might benefit from being in a championship hunt but know that they are not Cup contenders? And would a sponsor care?
-- Brian, Brookline, Mass.

Great question, Brian. On the surface, it could be more appealing for any of those three drivers, all of whom, except for Logano, fall into "a year away, at least" category when it comes to making the Chase. But your last line is probably what dooms Sprint Cup drivers from checking a different box on their NASCAR license. How much money is Ruby Tuesday's giving Roger Penske compared to Miller Lite? How happy are Miller Lite executives going to be if Keselowski actively chooses to go for a championship in a minor league series, scoring points and winning races with a sponsor that's in theory receiving less exposure and giving less money?

The answer is, you'd probably see the beer company pull its support in a heartbeat. Ditto for Home Depot (Logano) and Menards for you-know-who, which means I don't think you'll ever see that happen, even in the short-term with the new policy.

Last Week's Trivia Answer: A NASCAR rule forcing drivers to choose which championship they'll run for when applying for their license will keep Sprint Cup regulars from winning the Nationwide Series title. That means a Nationwide-only driver will win for the first time since ... 2005, when Martin Truex, Jr. did it. Although he ran a handful of Cup races that year, as hgodsey88 pointed out (I'll give him first dibs on this one) Truex was a full-timer in the Nationwide Series only when he won the title over fellow rising Cup star Clint Bowyer.

(A quick clarification on the week before, while we're at it: Earl Ross was the only Canadian Rookie of the Year in Cup Series history. Other Canadians have won races in other NASCAR series, among them Ron Fellows in Nationwide.)

This Week's Trivia Question: The reported point change would be the first radical reconstruction of NASCAR's point system since 1974. That year was also a record-setting one for one of the sport's most famous races, a mark that still stands today. What was the race and the record? Hint: I've mentioned it on SI.com in recent weeks.

Tweet of The Week: @H8Crosby to @keselowski: I know the outcome of the bachelor...do you?" @keselowski's response: Yea... I think the guy wins

(Brad Keselowski on ABC's The Bachelor, where he supposedly knows one of the people on the show, but won't say who)

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