- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
7/2 PEPSI 400
BRINGING IT ALL
BACK HOME: Tony Stewart
MINUTES AFTER the final race of the 2004 Nextel Cup season Tony Stewart told friends that he was packing and heading west. For six years he had lived just north of Charlotte, the hub of NASCAR, but now he was moving back to his childhood home in Columbus, Ind., a town of 39,000 located 40 miles south of Indianapolis. ( Stewart's parents, who are divorced, live in separate towns nearby.) The move made him one of only a few drivers who don't reside in the Southeast, and for Stewart going home again has done a stunning thing: It has transformed his race team.
"I'm just so much more relaxed now," he says as he sits on the porch of his small three-bedroom house. "This is the house I grew up in. Every morning when I open the door and let the dog out, it reminds me of when I was a kid. Life isn't complicated for me here. I can get in my plane and be at the shop in Charlotte pretty quickly. But I really don't need to be there. Where I need to be, for my own peace of mind, is here."
In this season's first four months Stewart's performance was up and down. Then, on June 6 and 7, the Home Depot team tested at Michigan International Speedway. In that test Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli hit the jackpot: They found a way to set up the suspension on the number 20 Chevy so it would grip the track through turns just a smidgen better than competitors'. "If you think I'm going to tell you what we've found, you're crazy," says Stewart, who has won four of the last six races, including the Aug. 7 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. "This is the best stretch of racing I've ever had."
Two weeks after
the test Stewart was second at Michigan. Seven days later he won on the road
course in Sonoma, Calif. The next week was Daytona, and after crossing the
start-finish line to win that race, he drove to the flag stand. A few days
earlier he'd dreamed about scaling the fence and taking the checkered flag from
the flag man; now he wanted to do just that. So Stewart crawled out of his car,
climbed the 12-foot-high fence and grabbed the flag, to the roar of the crowd.
Two weeks later he won in New Hampshire. When he again climbed the fence
("Honestly, I'm too fat and too old to be doing that," he says), he was
amazed at what he saw: Even fans wearing Dale Earnhardt Jr. shirts and Jeff
Gordon hats were cheering wildly. The image makeover of NASCAR's bad boy was
officially a success. -- LARS ANDERSON
TAKING A FENCE