Step Up To Greatness

In the half-light of a Florida evening, Tony Stewart took a step on Sunday night.

It was a step up, to be sure, both onto the championship stage and into a new phase of his career.

Stewart held on to win his second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship that night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and it was vitally important to him that he did it the right way.

You see, when he won his first title back in 2002, things weren't all that smooth. There was a lot of emotion pent up, both on Stewart's side and on the side of his team, and the constant sniping back and forth nearly undid all the great work this band of personalities had done on the way to the pinnacle of their chosen profession.

These things eventually come to a head, and that moment happened at the end of last season when a team meeting was called-with Stewart on one side of the table and everybody else on the other and minus Greg Zipadelli, who had lived in the middle of that uncivil war from the jump.

Stewart said that was the most nervous he's ever been going into a meeting. He knew, or suspected, that his future with his team was on the line, and that scared him. Things went back and forth across that table, things that had never before been pushed out into the open, and the result was a better understanding all the way around.

In a way, the Home Depot team's chase for the 2005 series title began that day, and on Sunday, they sealed the deal.

Everyone has remarked on how calm and cool Stewart has been all season long, refusing to let the ups and downs of life as a major star in the firmament of the most popular motorsport in the land get him down.

The smile was back, and it wasn't the hard smile Stewart uses when he's out for somebody's behind. When the victories started coming in bunches-including one at Indianapolis-the smile got pretty wide.

What Stewart and the rest of the Home Depot team accomplished in 2005 was more than just a victory over the best field of stock car drivers anywhere on the planet.

It was more of a victory over human nature and the trials and tribulations of being in an intensely competitive environment, under constant stress and strain.

Most of all, it was a victory over himself, and some of the things that have plagued Stewart since he was a kid racing go-karts.

With the patient guidance of team owner Joe Gibbs and his son J.D. and the constant support and effort from Zipadelli-plus a move back to his roots in Indiana-Stewart was able to take some significant strides toward the greatness that his talent has long foretold.

Only 14 drivers have won more than one NASCAR Cup title-and Stewart is the latest. There are more mountains to climb, to be sure, but the biggest one might have been scaled Sunday night in Florida.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005, Tony Stewart

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