Tony The Terrible
April 26, 2007 | 10:30 A.M. EST
I’ve been in a room with reporters talking with Stewart many times and believe me, most of the time it’s no privilege.
Usually Stewart chides reporters, makes fun of questions, playfully engages in rapport with one or two of his “favorites” among the media and then leaves.
Stewart decided to blow off his obligation to talk with reporters after finishing second to Jeff Gordon in last Saturday’s SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix.
Rather than bash NASCAR is the post-race session, which by the way despite his claims otherwise is mandatory for the top three finishers of a race, Stewart decided to save his rant for his weekly Sirius Satellite Radio program.
There his tirade accused NASCAR of manipulating races, throwing debris caution flags when they weren’t necessary and basically stopping just short of implying the sanctioning body fixes the outcome of events.
"It's about the integrity of the sport," Stewart said. "When I feel our own sanctioning body isn't taking care of that, it's hard to support them and feel proud about being a driver in the Nextel Cup Series. I guess NASCAR thinks, 'Hey wrestling worked, and it was for the most part staged, so I guess it's going to work in racing, too.' "
It didn’t take NASCAR long to respond, and not surprisingly the folks in Daytona Beach were not happy.
“NASCAR has been running races since 1948, and we place the safety of the drivers at the top of the list," said spokesman Jim Hunter. "We have more people and more resources than ever officiating our races. The safety of the drivers is our first priority. It has always been that way and will continue to be that way.
"There are thousands of talented race drivers out there who would consider it an honor to compete in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series."
Hunter said he doesn’t expect any penalties to be levied against Stewart, either for the comments or for skipping out on his post-race media duties.
Stewart claims he was perfectly within his rights to blow-off the session, although he seems to have other motives.
"NASCAR is the ones that always ask us to go to the center, so instead of doing what they wanted, they don't do what we want to do and run the race fair," he said. "So why would I go to the media center and make them happy?"
The whole situation is just another example of the impetuous Stewart’s personality, which is about as Jekyll and Hyde as a professional athlete can be. When he’s on, Stewart can be funny, sincere, compelling and honest. But when he doesn’t feel like it, interviewing Rosie O’Donnell in a bikini is a more pleasant experience.
Stewart’s handling of this situation is troubling on a different level.
Now we have the danger of drivers like Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson needing content to fill their weekly satellite radio shows. Rather than talking to the media at the track, why not just hold back what’s really on your mind until show time?
I get a sneaking suspicion that Stewart’s already prickly relationship with the media just went pay-per-view, at the cost of $9.95 a month for a satellite radio subscription.