Tony Stewart went out as a NASCAR driver much the way he came in – fighting to the end and without apology.
Stewart struggled on the track in his final Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a full-time driver, falling a lap down relatively early in the race and finished 22nd.
"I still got pissed off in the last three laps"
But late in the race, instead of letting his thoughts wander, he grew livid with what was going on around him.
Asked if he got sentimental in the car at all, Stewart said, “No, not once. Actually, it was the opposite. I got really pissed off at the end because (Landon Cassill) and a couple other cars started passing cars under yellow while we were lining up.
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute, we earned those spots!’ Even at the end, I couldn’t sit back and enjoy it and ride. I still got pissed off in the last three laps.”
After running into trouble early in the race, Stewart said he and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team adapted a “go-for-it” strategy to try to win the race.
What did that entail?
“We just tried to do things that everybody else didn’t,” he said. “We’re not going to be the ones they said played it safe. We never play it safe. We always go for it and we always take chances.
“We took a chance when we made that 60-lap (green-flag) run and tried to get a lap back that way and we were hoping a caution would come out. Then we lost that lap and a caution came out right after that cycle.
“We finally got a lap back later but it was too little, too late.”
Stewart was all smiles standing at his car after the race, greeting a list of well-wishers that included his former team owner, Joe Gibbs, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, who had just competed for the series championship.
“You guys need to read between the lines. A lot of these are just so excited because they know they will never have to race against me again,” he said. “It’s an honor. I’m the guy that will fight with them if I disagree with them but at the same time, they know that I am a guy who will fight for them, too.
“That’s what means the most, when these guys come up to you and tell you that they’ll miss you.”
Done with media interviews, Stewart then headed to the champion's stage to congratulate Jimmie Johnson on his NASCAR record-tying seventh Cup series championship.
While on stage, Johnson presented Stewart the specially-designed helmet titled “Chasing 7” that he wore in the race. It featured profiles of both Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, who both earned seven Cup titles.
Grasping the helmet like a child does a present on Christmas morning, Stewart said, “How cool is that?”