As it turns out, Smoke will be rising for a long time to come.
Tony Stewart, who long ago picked up the moniker “Smoke,” confirmed on Wednesday that the 2016 season would be his last as a fulltime driver in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
However, if anyone thought Stewart would go quietly into the night – either in his final season as a competitor or after his Cup driving career was over – they were sadly mistaken if they listened to his news conference.
One hundred percent because of the fans that have supported us through the years
Tony Stewart on why he isn't retiring this year
There was some talk this week that Stewart’s decision to step away from driving in the Cup series would somehow free him from some giant burden that he would never have to shoulder again.
Tony Stewart not going anyway
That’s certainly not the message Stewart portrayed on Wednesday.
In fact, if Stewart the three-time Cup series champion isn’t around to tangle with NASCAR officials or the media, Stewart the car owner seems pleased with the opportunity to continue the tradition.
“I love what I do with NASCAR and I love what I do as a driver, and the great thing is I’m not going anywhere. NASCAR is probably going to be the most disappointed of everybody today because they aren’t getting rid of me. They have to deal with me as an owner,” Stewart said.
“There’s still the opportunity to get fined and there’s still the opportunity to be put on probation, just like always, just from a different capacity than now.”
Of course, Stewart said all of that in a joking manner, but is there really any doubt to its truth?
The competitive fire is still there
Does anyone who has followed Stewart’s illustrious driving career believe that Stewart the car owner won’t be just as passionate, just as fiery a competitor?
As Stewart himself pointed out, he has already enjoyed immense success as a team owner and there is no reason why a more expanded version of that role wouldn’t light his competitive fire just as much as driving.
“I've won more championships as a car owner than I have as a driver, if you look at our record since 2001. I think we’ve won 23 national championships as a car owner. I'm definitely as competitive as an owner as I am as a driver,” Stewart said.
“You know, that’s the great thing is it’s hard to take somebody that's competitive and take them out of a competitive environment. I'm not having to do that. I'm still going to be competitive with the Cup team as an owner. I'm still going to be competitive as a track owner, as a series owner and as a dirt track owner, as well.
“That fire is still there, and that's what makes this transition much easier for me. I'm not sitting here trying to figure out what I'm going to do and I'm not trying to find something to be competitive with. It's already there, we've already been doing it, it's just a change in direction on the Cup side.”
Why he decided to give it one more year
Stewart even said he originally considered stepping away from his Cup driving career at the end of this season.
The reason he changed his mind?
“One hundred percent because of the fans that have supported us through the years,” he said. “I've seen and been able to follow what Jeff (Gordon) has done this year and see how much it's meant to the fans to watch him race and have the knowledge and knowing that it's their last year to watch him.
“That's important to me to be able to do this for our fans that have stuck with us through thick and thin and supported us. It's as important for me to do this for them as it is for me to do what I'm doing for my future.”
Those aren’t the words of someone looking forward to being freed from a sport that somehow restrained him from what he really liked.
Those are the words of someone embracing the sport more than ever before.