This is the first of a five-part series in advance of the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Jan. 31. Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET) with live streaming at MRN.com.
Everyone needs help to get somewhere in life but how often does that same help all enter in the same Hall of Fame class?
On May 22, 2019 Tony Stewart found out that he will be inducted into the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame. Some of the people that helped Stewart along the way will also join him in the class.
“With all of us getting in and the fact that the guy that was really responsible for getting me to Joe Gibbs Racing with Bobby Labonte, getting coach (Joe Gibbs) in as well and even before that with Waddell Wilson, who was with Harry Rainer with Rainer-Walsh Racing,” Stewart said. “The four of us going in at the same time there’s personal ties to all three of those guys even Buddy Baker. When I went through the Buck Baker school, Buddy was actually there one day to watch me run the car. It’s just really cool how all five of us have a connection with in the early part of my career.”
In the United States, NASCAR has always been the pinnacle of stock car racing and the boom of the sport in the 90s brought the “Rushville Rocket” to the sport along with many other exciting drivers.
The Indiana native started his racing career like many aspiring drivers by karting in the World Karting Association where he captured a championship in 1987. Stewart continued his open wheel path as a young driver when he transitioned to the United States Auto Club (USAC) in 1991 and was crowned the midget champion in both 1994 and 1995. He captured his final USAC championship in the Sliver Crown Series in 1995.
Before making his full transition to stock car racing, he cut his teeth in the IndyCar Series starting in the 1996 season. After making three starts in his debut season, he began the 1997 season with a problem in the opening three races but bounced back after getting his first career win at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Following his first win he remained consistent to capture his lone championship in the series.
However, his time soon became split between the IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series starting in the 1996 season with Rainer Walsh Racing. Eventually he moved along to run for Labonte Motorsports during the 1998 season, where he found success and eventually impressed car owner Joe Gibbs.
The following year Gibbs brought him up to the NASCAR Cup Series to parried with his former car owner Bobby Labonte. His rookie campaign was quite the success after becoming the 1999 Rookie of the Year with three wins (Richmond, Phoenix and Homestead) fourth in the points standings, 21 top 10s and 12 top-five finishes.
After having a great rookie and sophomore campaign, the 2002 season marked something that every driver dreams of growing up. His 2002 campaign started off similar to his 2001 campaign with a DNF in the Daytona 500.
However, he managed battled for the remainder of the season with the likes of Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson all the way to Homestead. He came home in 18th to capture his first NASCAR Cup Series title.
Even though Stewart captured his second title in 2005, the one the stands out to him the most any many race fans is the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series title.
“It would be hard not to pick the championship race in 2011 at Homestead there were so many things that happened that night,” Stewart said. “With the U-joint going through the front of the screen, from the contact with my buddy David Reutimann who was trying to get out of our way.
“The two rain delays that happened, the bad pit stop all of the things that happened that were setbacks in that particular race and to be able to overcome that. That was the highlight of my career to me.”
Following an epic battle between him and former NASCAR Cup standout Carl Edwards, he became the only driver to win under the original points format and the “Chase” format. Along with that he also became the only under three different title sponsorships.
Of course, three championships 49 wins, 308 top 10s and 187 top fives is plenty enough to for a driver to lock himself into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but Stewart still has the racer mentality going strong.
“It’s just been fun to do everything that were doing and it’s like I’ve said the last two years, I get to do what I exactly love to do,” Stewart said. “I get to go race all the races I want to go run, I go to NASCAR races and still get to participate as an owner. I’ve got 350 great people at the shop that I love and four great drivers that are a total handful.
“It’s a form of birth control because after dealing with these four guys I don’t want kids now,” Stewart said. “I might have one of those but it’s fun. I enjoy that side of it, I enjoy owning the racetrack, the challenges of being a series owner and a car owner. That aspect is really fun for me.”
Despite the having the honor of being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame it still has a very different feeling for Tony as he continues his other ventures in motorsports aboard.
“It’s weird because I’m still in racecar driver mode and then you have a moment and a day like today where you’re getting inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Stewart said. “It seems like the first chapter hasn’t stopped yet for the second chapter to begin, there overlapping chapters. That’s what makes it seem surreal at this point and that’s what’s making it fun to.”