"That meeting really opened my eyes," says Stewart. "I'm only 5'8" and 185 pounds, but I can intimidate people. That had to stop because my guys need to be able to talk to me about anything."
"Tony moving home has meant everything to our team," says shock specialist Ronny Crooks. "Instead of looking at problems, Tony now looks at solutions."
That positive attitude carried the team all year, from the ups and downs of spring, through a red-hot summer (sparked by a test session at Michigan in which Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli hit on a key suspension setup), to a carefully controlled Chase, to the final lap at Homestead, ending a season that will stand out in NASCAR history. "I've never really thought about where my place in the history of the sport will ultimately be," says Stewart. "I've got a lot more to accomplish, and hopefully I'll win a few more championships."
While Stewart is clearly driving toward the pantheon of the alltime great American racers--a place where Earnhardt, Foyt, Pearson and Petty all reside--he already shares one trait with the legends: He likes to give the fans a show. So, late in the evening of Nov. 20, at the urging of a few hundred fans still in the Homestead grandstand an hour after the race, Stewart scaled the catch-fence at the start-finish line. As he triumphantly raised his arm, flashbulbs popped, capturing what surely will be the defining image of NASCAR's 2005 season.