NASCAR & Auto Racing

Tony Stewart enjoying being out of spotlight

DETROIT – Tony Stewart and Kid Rock stood shoulder to shoulder when the musician wanted the assembled media to know something about the two-time NASCAR champion.

“He’s the greatest guy ever,” Kid Rock said Wednesday.

Stewart smirked.

“I thought we had an agreement about that so we wouldn’t ruin each other’s reputation,” Stewart said.

Stewart and Kid Rock – who became friends several years ago during a concert in Charlotte, N.C., – spent some time together when the driver was at the Motor City Casino to promote the first of two races this summer at Michigan International Speedway.

Kid Rock, whose real name is Robert James Ritchie, said he saw Stewart’s name on a sign when he was at the casino for a meeting and decided to come say hello.

“Don’t you have a job?” Stewart joked.

Part of Stewart’s unofficial job description has included being at the center of attention because of his actions and words.

But it has been a month since Stewart created a stir – criticizing the quality of Goodyear’s tires at Atlanta Motor Speedway – and he hasn’t made news by lashing out at fellow drivers or the media in a long time.

Stewart insists staying out of the spotlight does not take a concentrated effort.

“It’s not by design. It’s really who I am,” he said. “If somebody does me wrong, I do what I do.

“But all the stupid stuff I’ve done in the past is because I’m very emotional and passionate. I’ve learned to take a deep breath and think about what I’m going to say before I say it.”

Stewart does not regret his decision to complain publicly and loudly about Goodyear’s product or about NASCAR’s exclusive deal with the company.

“I went way overboard because I wanted to make sure somebody high enough at Goodyear got the message,” he said. “And we got the message delivered that day.”

Generally speaking, though, Stewart said it has been easy to stay relatively calm this year – despite being winless through seven races – because of clean racing.

“There is a respect level that I don’t think has been as high as it’s been,” he said. “Guys that I didn’t work well with on the track last year have been some of the best guys this year.

“It’s not like we sent Christmas cards after last year, but guys realize they can’t get into the weekly scuffle because that could be the difference in making the Chase or not.”

Stewart, who is fifth in the driver standings, is upbeat about his season even though the results haven’t been impressive.

He’s hoping that will change at this week’s race in Arizona.

“We haven’t gotten a win yet, but I’ve had more fun with my team this year than I ever have,” Stewart said. “And even without a win, I feel like I’ve driven some of the best races of my career.”

And speaking of his career, Stewart said he plans to end it with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I always have from Day 1,” he said, trying to quiet questions about him leaving for another team when his contract expires after next season. “There is nothing broke right now, so nothing needs to be fixed. Joe is a great, great friend.”