Tony Stewart has lost plenty this season: engines, races, his
status as the most fearsome driver in Winston Cup, to name a few
things. The defending Cup champion, however, appears to have made
gains in at least one area: his sense of humor. Two weeks ago,
after winning his first race of 2003, at Pocono, Stewart was
asked to name his worst moment from a season that has been filled
with low points. "Can you pick just one thing?" he replied, all
smiles. "I think that all of you guys expected me to flip out,
the way things have gone."
To his credit the notoriously volatile Stewart hasn't lost it
this season (perhaps those team-mandated anger-management courses
he took last season have helped), but he has had plenty to be
furious about. During a seven-race span from March 23 through May
25 he wrecked two times and blew two engines, finishing 40th or
lower in three of those races. After finishing eighth at the
Sirius 400 in Michigan on Sunday, Stewart was 12th overall.
That's not the biggest slump of the year--Dale Jarrett has fallen
from ninth in 2002 to 26th--but Stewart was expected to make a
run at defending his title, while the 46-year-old Jarrett has
been in decline in recent years.
How to explain Stewart's free fall? He and his crew have made
uncharacteristic mistakes (at Dover on June 1, for example, he
was penalized a lap by NASCAR for being inches outside his pit
box on a stop), and too often his car has lacked the horsepower
to run with the leaders. "It's not anybody's fault," Stewart
says. "It's just circumstances out there. It happens to
Not this often to a defending Winston Cup champion.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB LEVERONE/TSN/ICON SMI STEWART
YOUR TAKE: SI.com Poll
Who has been the most disappointing driver this season?
Dale Jarrett 62%
Tony Stewart 28%
Ryan Newman 10%
--Based on 2,562 responses to SI's informal survey