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Tony Stewart Says “Fans Need a Reality Check”

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

Tony Stewart joined Dave Moody on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday, and he fiercely defended his approach to ownership alongside expressing optimism for the 2024 season. Here are all of the spiciest comments from the man they call, “Smoke”.

  • Stewart-Haas Racing went through a winless season in 2023, their first since Tony Stewart bought into the team in 2009. The team went through an overhaul in the offseason with Josh Berry and Noah Gragson coming in to replace the retired Kevin Harvick and the departing Aric Almirola. Berry and Gragson will race alongside returners Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece.
  • Some have attributed this decline to Tony Stewart’s lack of presence at the race track. He has recently started an NHRA team, and he will compete full-time in the NHRA Top Fuel category in 2024 for his wife Leah Pruett as the couple plan to start a family. Stewart won his first NHRA race in 2023 in the Top Alcohol category at Las Vegas.
  • Fans were a bit split in the comments he made. Some loved his honesty, but, others felt that he should not be deflecting blame on others with his name on the building.

What Tony Stewart Had to Say About His Ownership Style

Stewart was particularly critical of those who felt he was too hands-off and not present enough as an owner. He mentioned that he is not the one setting the cars up, and his job is to give his employees what they need to get the job done.

We’ve had two miserable years in a row and I’m tired of taking the blame from everybody on why the cars are not running good. I think the fans need a reality check and a reminder that I’m not the crew chief, I’m not the engineer, I don’t dictate the setups on the cars. I give these guys the tools to do the job and we just haven’t got it done the last couple of years.

Tony Stewart

There are two sides to this coin. On one hand, Tony Stewart’s name is on the building, so, it’s ultimately his responsibility to make sure the team is performing at their absolute best. In that sense, deflecting blame to those he hired may be a bad look to some.

Then there’s the other side of the coin, which is the reality that all business owners need to deal with. Teams are only as strong as their weakest link, and sometimes individuals are just not the right fit for a certain job. When that happens, it’s up to the boss, Tony Stewart in this case, to make the necessary changes to put everyone in the best position to succeed.

Stewart is right that he does not set the cars up and drive them. He’s just the owner, and interjecting himself too heavily into the day-to-day operations of the team and micromanaging serves more as a distraction than anything else.

However, fair or unfair, his name is on the building. If things go wrong consistently, people point to the guy who is in charge. There’s a reason why fans in other sports call for owners to sell if a team performs poorly, and there’s a reason owners fire general managers and head coaches.

What Tony Stewart Had to Say About Presence at the Race Track

As far as being at the race track, Stewart claims that not being at the track is just not a big deal. He doesn’t believe that his presence has any impact on the performance of a race team.

That’s the part that absolutely baffles me, people’s responses just because I’m not at the race track. When I am at the racetrack, there’s nothing I do. I just follow along and watch and cheerlead. That’s my job on race weekends. It doesn’t matter whether I’m there or not, the performance isn’t going to change if I’m there or if I’m absent. I have the opportunity to do some pretty unique stuff this year, to drive the fastest car I’ll ever drive in my life. I’m not gonna sit there and worry about what everyone else thinks about whether I’m there or not. If you have half a brain you’re going to understand how this all works and realize that we may not be at the track, but we’re not absent from what’s going on.

Tony Stewart

Not every NASCAR team owner is at the race track for every single race. Many owners have other business ventures and personal lives to attend to, and it’s a big ask for them to be at all 38 races in a season.

Rick Hendrick is not at every single race, and he has a major network of car dealerships. Roger Penske has an entire racing series and race track to run outside of NASCAR alongside multiple other race teams. Both of those team owners are some of the most successful in the history of the sport, and they are two of the top team owners in the sport today.

Stewart is right that a team owner does not have to be at the race track for a team to perform well. Does having the team owner there give some motivation to perform well? Sure, but, it’s not the silver bullet for a team to perform better. It comes down to putting the right people in the right places and giving them the tools to succeed.

Is it fair to ask that his ventures outside of SHR distract him from the issues at the team? Yes, that’s fair to ask, but, again, look to the example of Penske and Hendrick, particularly Penske. They have other businesses outside of NASCAR, and they still find success.

What He Expects From His Race Team in 2024

Despite all of this, Stewart preached optimism for the 2024 season. He was very complimentary of the new drivers, and he loves what they bring to the table.

I’m excited. I’ve seen the enthusiasm change in the shop with the young guys coming in…It’s been fun this offseason to watch these guys intereact with their crews and see the excitement on these guys faces.

Tony Stewart

SHR has a very intriguing driver lineup for 2024, with two returners. There’s Chase Briscoe, who nearly made the Championship 4 in 2023. Ryan Preece struggled in 2023, but, he showed flashes, particularly on short tracks.

The two newcomers are interesting as well. Josh Berry moves up from the Xfinity Series, and he did an admirable job filling in for injured drives in the Cup Series throughout 2023. Noah Gragson struggled in 2023, but, his performance in the lower series shows how much potential he truly has.

Stewart seems to also have been motivating his team with the success that SHR has had in the past. This team has done it before, so, it’s time to reach that standard again according to Stewart.

Everyone in that building understands that what we did the last two years isn’t acceptable anymore. That’s not the standard this team has been accustomed to. We’ve got a lot of banners having from the ceiling that show we know how to do it right, and we’ve got two of those banners that show we know how to do it right for a full season.

Tony Stewart

Stewart knows the typical standard at Stewart-Haas Racing. They are used to competing for wins and Championships, and anything less than that feels like a disappointment. Having that standard is great, and teams have made that comeback before.

Look at a team like RFK Racing. They won two Championships in a row in 2003 and 2004, and they won a slew of races throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and early 2010s. Then, they fell off, but, in 2023, they won 3 races with both drivers finishing in the top 8 in the standings. It can be done.

While Stewart preaches optimism, there has been plenty of criticism that he has had to fend off. Ultimately, the only way to silence those critics is for the team to perform on the race track.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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