If any of NASCAR drivers deserves a Hollywood blockbuster about his life, that's certainly Tony Stewart. Stewart is the only driver who won both Indy car (1997) and NASCAR titles (2002, 2005 and 2011). He won three NASCAR Sprint Cup titles as a driver and one title as a team owner. Stewart is a multi-millionaire and philanthropist, so in 2003, he founded the foundation which cares about ill children.
In his personal life, he doesn't have children and he isn't married, so he's the regular target of the non-sports media which are watching him for every minute and asking with whom he's dating. Tony's life and a racing career were full of ups and downs, joyful moments and tragedies, victories and defeats, saved lives and unfortunate deaths.
Eleven years of racing with go-karts
The story began on May 20th, 1971, in Columbus, Indiana, when Nelson Stewart and Pam Boas gets a boy. They gave him a name Anthony Wayne. In 1978, at the racetrack in Westport, he wheeled the go-kart for the first time.
He won his first title at the age of 8. It was a 4-cycle rookie junior class championship at the Columbus Fairgrounds. Two more karting titles – the 1983 International Karting Federation Grand National championship and the 1987 World Karting Association National championship.
Tony won USAC Triple Crown in 1995
In 1989, Stewart switched from go-karts to open-wheel cars. He raced Three-Quarter Midgets before entering the USAC competition in 1991. Year by year he was better and better to finally win the 1994 USAC National Midget Series in 1994.
And then, in 1995, he scored a historic Triple Crown. USAC’s top-three national divisions are Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown, which run three different types of cars on both asphalt and dirt. No driver had ever won all three in one season. Until Tony came!
Second place in the debut Indy car race
That historic success earned him a place in the 1996 Indy Racing League. He was driving for the Team Menard in the controversial season which featured only three races. Tony debuted in the Indy 200 race at Walt Disney World Speedway and finished at the sensational second place, behind Buzz Calkins.
NASCAR debut in 1996
Because of such a short IRL season, Tony had enough time to compete in the USAC series but also for his NASCAR debut. He debuted in the NASCAR Busch Series in February at Daytona, driving Harry Ranier's Pontiac. He participated in nine races with 16th place as the best finish. In August, Tony also debuted in the Craftsman Truck Series, driving Chevrolet for Mueller Brothers at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Stewart won 1997 Indy Racing League championship title
In 1997, Tony's season in the Indy Racing League ended with surprise championship title. He won only one of ten races, at Pikes Peak International Raceway, to take the title with six points advantage ahead of Davey Hamilton. At 1997 Indianapolis 500, Tony was running good, even leading for 64 laps, but he finished fifth.
Tony joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 1998
In the 1997 Busch Series, Tony participated in five races with Bobby Labonte's Pontiac. In 1998, Tony expanded his efforts and competed in 22 Busch Series races, driving the #44 Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac. Tony scored five top 5 finishes to ended the season 21st in the points. He was close to his first NASCAR victory at Rockingham but Matt Kenseth overtook the lead in the last lap.
In 1998 Indy Racing League season, Tony scored two wins, more than in his victorious season, but finished third in the final classification. He won at Walt Disney World Speedway and New Hampshire. At Indy 500, he finished last after the engine blew up.
Debuting NASCAR Cup Series season in 1999
Joe Gibbs Racing upgraded Tony to the full schedule for 1999 Winston Cup season, so he left the Indy Racing League. He had just a one-off appearance at 1999 Indianapolis 500 with Tri-Star Racing and he finished ninth.
The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series started with a surprise second qualifying time at the season-opening Daytona 500. Tony placed his #20 Pontiac fifteen times in Top 10 before he scored his maiden NASCAR victory at Richmond International Raceway. Later in the season Tony won at Phoenix Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway to take fourth place in the final classification of his first Winston Cup season. Of course, he was the best among rookies.
1090 miles in the first Memorial Day double
Except his victories, the highlight of the season was the double program on Sunday, May 30th, when he participated in the two big races in one day. He first took ninth place at Indianapolis 500 and later he drove the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte. As he was four laps down at Indy 500, Tony completed 1090 racing miles (od scheduled 1100) that day.
Six Winston Cup wins for career-best record
In 2000, Tony clinched six Winston Cup wins, which remained his career-best result of victories in one season. Despite that, he finished only 6th in the points because lots of DNFs. In 2001, three victories were enough to take the runner-up spot in the championship, behind Jeff Gordon. That season was marked by the scary accident at season-opening Daytona 500, which put Tony in a hospital. Unfortunately, his injury wasn't the main event that day, because Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the same race.
For the second year in a row, Tony had a double program on the Memorial Day, with Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. He finished sixth at Indy 500 and third at Charlotte. This time, he completed all of scheduled 1100 miles.
NASCAR's bad boy won his first title in 2002
During 2000 and 2001 Tony became known as 'NASCAR's bad boy' because of multiple incidents against of other drivers and misbehavior which wasn't according to the rules. Such a behavior continued in 2002, but all that was put aside when he became the Winston Cup winner.
He won two races at the beginning of the season (Atlanta and Richmond) and later he added a victory at Watkins Glen. After strong finishes at the end of the season, he took the title just 38 points ahead of Mark Martin.
Five participations at Daytona 24-hour race
In 2002, Stewart participated for the first time at 24 hours of Daytona, driving for Crawford Racing alongside Jan Lammers and Johnny Mowlem. They didn't finish the race. Tony repeated his participation at Daytona 24-hour race four more times, finishing third in 2005 with Howard-Boss Motorsport's Crawford DP03. His co-drivers were Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace.
Collecting victories and penalties
In NASCAR, with a championship title in his pocket, Tony continued to collect victories, after replacing the Pontiac with Chevrolet. In 2003, he won two times (Pocono and Charlotte) to finish 7th in the points, in 2004, he triumphed at Chicagoland and Watkins Glen to finish 6th in the points. He was also collecting incidents and penalties. In June at Sonoma, Tony punched Brian Vickers. He was fined $50,000, stripped of points and put on probation for the rest of the year.
Tony won his second Cup title in 2005
The another championship winning season followed in 2005. Tony won five races (Sonoma, Daytona, New Hampshire, Watkins Glen and Indianapolis) to take the title with 35 points advantage ahead of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. He continued to be a 'bad boy' and earned one more fine and probation for hitting Brian Vickers again in August at Watkins Glen.
Race of Champions victory worth a million
In 2006, Stewart missed to qualify for the Chase, becoming the first defending champion to miss the Chase in the following year. However, during the Chase Tony won three races and with a total of five wins he finished 11th in the points. Despite his worst ever season finish so far, the season wasn't a complete failure because he won the International Race of Champions for the first time and earned a million dollar prize.
Bad Boy was obscene in the Victory Lane
In 2007, Tony continue to build his image of a bad boy, earning another probation after an altercation with Kurt Busch in June at Dover and getting a penalty because of obscene language in the Victory Lane interview after he won the Brickyard 400. It was one of his two wins in 2007, the another was gained at Watkins Glen. Tony finished 6th in the points, driving for the last time the #20 Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2008, the team switched to Toyota.
Last win with JGR at Talladega
Driving the #20 Toyota Camry Stewart scored his last victory for Joe Gibbs Racing in October at Talladega. In total, he took 33 wins and two championship titles with JGR. At the end of the season, he handed the car to Joey Logano. Stewart started the new adventure making the deal with Gene Haas to create the new team Stewart-Haas Racing.
In 2009, the Stewart-Haas Racing was born
The new team entered 2009 season with #14 Stewart's Chevrolet and the #39 car for the fellow Indiana native Ryan Newman. Stewart won his first race as an owner/driver in the non-championship All-Star race. The first Sprint Cup points victory followed at Pocono in June. He added wins at Daytona's Coke Zero 400 and Watkins Glen to enter the Chase as the leader. During the Chase, he won only at Kansas Speedway and finished sixth in the points.
Third championship title in 2011
In 2010, two wins at Atlanta Motors Speedway and Auto Club Speedway were enough for the seventh place in the series' standings. In 2011, Stewart qualified for the Chase without victories and then shined. He won the Chase-opening race at Chicagoland, added four more wins and took his third championship title, to become the first driver/owner champion since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Stewart and Carl Edwards were tied in points at the end of the season but Stewart had five wins against Edwards' one victory.
In 2012, Danica Patrick joined Stewart in his team, as the only female driver at the Sprint Cup grid. Tony has won three races in 2012 Sprint Cup season, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway and Daytona, to finish ninth in the points. It was his last proper season which he finished in the top 10.
Victory at the Monster Mile in 2013
In 2013, Tony Stewart won the race at the Monster Mile. It was his 48th win in the premier NASCAR series. The season was interrupted on August 5, with an accident in the sprint car race at Southern Iowa Speedway. While leading, Tony was involved in a multi-car wreck and he suffered the broken right leg.
Stewart returned to racing in February 2014, at the Sprint Cup season-opener at Daytona. Later in the season, he scored six Top 10 results, with fourth place at Bristol as the best result. In July 2014, Stewart also returned to sprint car racing.
Controversial death of Kevin Ward Jr.
In a life full of controversies and accidents, the biggest and the most controversial accident, unfortunately the deadliest one, happened on August 9, 2014, during the sprint race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
20-year-old local driver Kevin Ward Jr. hit the wall and spun out after a contact with Stewart's car. Ward got out of his car and walked onto the track. As Stewart's car approached on the next lap, Ward was pointing and gesturing at Stewart. The rear right tire of Stewart's car hit Ward and thrown him across the track. Shortly after that, Ward was pronounced dead in hospital.
The tragedy took part the night before Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen and Stewart skipped the race. He missed two more races at Michigan and Bristol. The grand jury and district attorney declined any charges on Stewart, stating that it was a racing accident and Stewart wasn't guilty.
No more victories for Tony
Stewart returned to his #14 Chevrolet on August 31, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Until the end of the season, his best result was fourth place at Martinsville and he finished 25th in the points.
In 2015, Stewart had the worst result ever in the full Cup season, finishing 28th in the points after 36 races. His best result was sixth place at Bristol. Tony missed the victory for the third season in a row it was a sign that his time has gone.
Unfortunate buggy accident in January 2016
The things get worst in January 2016 when Stewart injured his back in the non-racing accident while riding a dune buggy near San Diego. He missed eight races at the start of the season, with Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon replacing him in the #14 Chevrolet. Stewart returned to racing in April at Richmond, deciding that the 2016 Cup Series season would be the last for him. Clint Bowyer came as a replacement in the #14 car.
62 NASCAR victories in a career
On June 26, 2016, Stewart scored one more last victory, winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. It was his 49th Cup Series win and 62nd in all three NASCAR national competitions.
He ended a career after 618 Cup Series starts in which he scored 15 poles and 49 wins. He is ranked 13th among the all-time NASCAR Cup Series winners. His record in the Busch/Nationwide Series is also impressive, as he took 11 wins in 94 races. Of his eleven Busch/Nationwide wins, seven were taken at Daytona International Speedway, including the last one in February 2013. In the Truck Series, he won two times.
The owner of Eldora Speedway
Except racing, Stewart is a successful businessman, primarily connected with motorsports. In 2016, his team owns four cars in the Sprint Cup. In November 2004, he became the owner of the Eldora Speedway in New Weston, Ohio, one of the most legendary short tracks in America. He was also a co-owner of Paducah International Raceway and Macon Speedway. In 2015, he purchased an entire racing series (All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series).
Tony Stewart Foundation is a successful charitable organization
Stewart is not spending the money just for racing, he is also a known philanthropist. In 2003, he formed his own charitable organization, simply named Tony Stewart Foundation. The goal is to raise funds primarily for three specific groups – chronically ill children, drivers injured in motorsports activities and organizations dedicated to the protection of various animal species.
The Foundation has awarded over $5 million for charitable initiatives. One of the most important projects is the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which serves as a year-round camp for children with an assortment of life-threatening illnesses.
Bad boy grew up and became the Good Guy
In 2004, Stewart's charitable work was awarded by The Sporting News with a title of 'NASCAR's Good Guy'. In 2005, Stewart organized the Prelude to the Dream race event at Eldora Speedway and since then it became one of the most popular non-championship events. During the years, those events collected more than $4 million for various charities. Because of that, the NASCAR Illustrated pronounced Stewart its Person of the Year in 2008.
To conclude, Tony Stewart is a NASCAR's bad boy and NASCAR's Good Guy in the same time. He is the man adored by many and hated by many. He is the man of action and controversies, so the one thing is for sure - NASCAR won't be the same without him.