I buy the little matchbox size replicas of his race car. I have an Office Depot Coat sporting his sponsors and the #14 insignia. I watch NASCAR faithfully each weekend 36 weeks a year and pray to God that Tony Stewart wins the race because I enjoy it seeing him win. I tell people, “He’s my driver.”Last night I watched a very gracious Tony Stewart act like a grown up professional car owner/driver and stand up guy as he accepted his reward and addressed a group of fans and his peers in Las Vegas, Nevada. I guess you can say I am an obnoxious NASCAR fan.
Tony raced for Joe Gibbs Racing up until 2009 when he branched off with the help of Rick Hendrick to co-own his own race team Stewart-Haas Racing. Prior to that time some of the things that made Tony fun to watch happened to be his penchant for speaking his mind and his unwillingness to take any guff off of anyone. He remains the picture of a competitor by nature.
He is known as a bad boy of racing. Even last year he had an altercation at a race track in Australia that landed him in jail. And based on a 2008 Rolling Stone interview and a number of off color remarks on radio snip-its and interviews there is little question that the bad boy image rings as true as his stellar performance in this year’s chase. Though the writer of the article in Rolling Stone suggests that he only depicted one side of Stewart and there is a whole other side that is an honorable gentleman you can’t escape his on camera performance as a bad boy.
In 2004 just before he won his second NASCAR (Sprint) Nextel Cup Series a book about him was written and is available through christianbooks.com. He supports Christian Drivers in the sport like Morgan Shepherd and spent a lot of time with Joe Gibbs racing under the Joe Gibbs Racing Banner. I cannot say that Tony Stewart is a Christian, though his mother reports that she goes to church with her husband each week and prays for her son while he races.
I wrote a post called NASCAR and Perseverance a few months back when Tony won the first race of the Sprint Cup Chase at Chicagoland Speedway. The following week I watched again as Tony won the New Hampshire race as well. I later would share with my life group gals that I felt like God was redeeming time for me this year.
In 2005 Tony won the Nextel (now Sprint) Cup championship just a few short months after my son passed away. I rarely watched a race after August of that year and missed the final moments of Tony’s big win.
Still, I picked up watching my beloved NASCAR the following winter/spring when we attended the Texas race in April and watched Tony finish second only to Kasey Kahne. A great time indeed.
I pray when Tony races. I know that seems weird, but I pray for the drivers and the race crews. I pray for them. I root for the Nationwide drivers who are more prominently known for their faith like Trevor Bayne and Blake Koch. I honor people like Joe Gibbs who so boldly live out their faith and I root for the underdog Morgan Shepherd who has been racing for 40 years and somehow gets his Victory in Jesus team to the tracks for the Nationwide series each week.
It is not lost on me that an invocation in Jesus’ name is offered before each race and most drivers honor that time by bowing their heads and closing their eyes. That chaplains at the track pray with drivers, offer them the opportunity to do Bible study and mentor drivers along the way.
I sometimes think that Tony struggled so hard in those years after 2005 because something he was doing didn’t mesh – there was no favor, just sheer determination.
So, come back with me to this year’s chase. A win at Chicago and New Hampshire boosted him forward and then he won at Martinsville and again at our very own Texas track. My husband literally thought I had lost my mind – he even told the dog I am crazy, though he is the one talking to the dog. I whooped and hollered and jumped and celebrated each win. Now, let me just say that I began to pray at Martinsville, “Lord would You allow Tony Stewart to win this race, and if not Tony then the one who would give You the most glory to win the chase.”
By the last race in at Homestead-Miami the standings had landed in a dead heat. Tony lingered just 3 points behind Carl Edwards. The two started a little back in the pack very close to one another. It would be a race to the finish and in the end a champion would be crowned. But, just a few laps in, Kurt Busch lost his transmission in the #22 car and Tony’s car collected damage from debris that had been deflected into his grill off the track.
After a few lengthy runs down pit road during the caution, Tony’s car restarted in the 38th position. Though the grill of his car had to be replaced that radiator had not sustained any damage – a miracle by the account of Larry McReynolds who is a NASCAR commentator and former crew chief.
He drove back up to 9th before pitting again and then restarted back in the 20s. In the meantime, Carl Edwards ran his #99 Ford up front most all day and received the additional bonus point for leading the most laps by race end. However, Tony continued to push through the obstacles he experienced on the race track
After a number of cautions and passing more than 100 cars to regain positions near the front of the pack on multiple occasions Tony took the lead in the waning laps of the race and beat out a very loose Jimmy Johnson for the race win which led to a tie between he and Carl Edwards for the championship title. The tie breaker would be determined by who had the most wins. With five total wins in the last ten races, Tony easily clenched the title spot over his competitor Carl Edwards who had not won a single race in the entire season.
Still, Carl Edwards walked out to Tony as he drove down the straightaway parallel to pit road and congratulated him. He later told a reporter, “I told my wife I would be the best loser that NASCAR ever had.”
As I watched Tony cross the finish line, I praised God for answering my prayers and letting me enjoy the win of my favorite race car driver’s championship season. And then, something totally unexpected that I have never seen before happened during the post race interview with Tony Stewart.
When asked about his emotions after winning both the race and the chase for the championship, Tony said: “Oh God, thank the Lord for this one. Man I’m telling you it’s been a tough summer and a tough fall for us, and you’ve got to believe in something and the Man upstairs (gestures with a finger to the sky) and He held this rain off long enough, just long enough for us to get this job done so this is for Sprint and for all these fans up here who stuck it out all weekend here…”
His acceptance speech was peppered with gratitude and graciousness toward his co-owners, Darian Grubb (his outgoing crew chief) and especially to Carl Edwards of whom he said, “You are not a loser, you will always be a winner.”
Worth every moment, and a reminder that God answers prayers in the most unexpected way. I’ve never heard Tony Stewart speak of God before in all the years I have observed him in NASCAR, but I heard him that night after I asked God all those weeks to allow the racer to win that would give Him the glory. Tony Stewart won and did. Thank you, Lord for even these little things that remind me of Your love for me.