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  • July 10, 2019
    This story appears in ESPN The Magazines November 14 Pain Issue. Subscribe today!TONY STEWARTS FANS are getting antsy. There are 20 people sitting in a locker room at Texas Motor Speedway -- accountants, lawyers, housewives -- all wearing custom-tailored firesuits and glazed in sweat after driving a genuine Sprint Cup car around one of NASCARs fastest tracks. Each has donated $6,500, with the promised payoff of hanging with Stewart for a day at an event called the Smoke Show. Hes been doing it for nine years, raising more than $1.7 million for the Speedway Childrens Charities.But this year the events namesake is running late. Like several hours late. The participants understand its because his plane, inbound from Charlotte, North Carolina, had a mechanical issue. But that isnt keeping them from looking at their watches. I love him so much, but damn, dude, one participant says. Ive got a lot of s--- I want him to sign today. His career is almost done. Who knows when Ill get to see him again?As if on cue, the racer walks into the room dressed and ready, his smile and his hands both outstretched. What are yall doing just sitting around? I thought we were driving race cars today. Fans gasp. Hands involuntarily clap. Angst to awe: a perfect illustration of the Tony Stewart experience.On Nov. 20, when the checkered flag falls on the NASCAR season in South Florida, it also will fall on Stewarts 18-year Cup career, one that has produced 49 wins and three championships. Hes the only man to own Cups sponsored by Winston, Nextel and Sprint. Two decades of brilliance punctuated by controversy. The angry kid who arrived as a Busch Series part-timer in 1996 covered in Indiana red clay has given way to a gray-in-his-temples 45-year-old man -- not exactly mellowed but at least more evenly keeled, balanced out by mangled legs and a conflicted heart.As a Cup rookie in 1999, he was hailed as the second coming of Jeff Gordon, a youngster molded from the same Midwestern dirt that begat A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. The reality was that he brought a résumé more impressive than Gordons, having won an IndyCar championship and sporting a handful of near wins in the Indianapolis 500. What he did was kick open the door that Gordon had only cracked, letting in a conga line of dirt-track sprint car racers whod long been ignored by NASCAR team owners who preferred drivers from Southern asphalt.But while Gordon played the role of a G-rated starched-shirt corporate darling, Stewart was all T-shirts, flip-flops and middle fingers, cussing you out one day and hugging you the next.Take just 2002: Stewart was ripped for shoving a photographer in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage. Just days later, he was praised for winning at Watkins Glen (at a time when he was making anger management appointments, pushed to do so by his boss, Joe Gibbs). Three months later, Stewart won the first of his three Cup titles. On a media tour the week of the award banquet, he felicitously admitted to enjoying his time with the media and, in his acceptance speech, snatched a camera and snapped pictures of the photographers on the front row.Stewart long wondered what he would have to do to make people stop talking about the incident with the photographer at Indy. Unfortunately, what overshadowed that was something much darker. On Aug. 9, 2014, at tiny Canandaigua Speedway in upstate New York, local racer Kevin Ward Jr. was killed by the car Stewart was driving. After crashing, the 20-year-old angrily stepped out of his car and in front of Stewarts machine. Moments later, he was dead, struck by Stewarts car.One year earlier, almost to the day, a sprint car accident shattered Stewarts right leg. Now, having just emerged from that physical trauma, he was thrown into a fit of depression. He spent the days after Wards death behind closed doors with friends and family. Every major media outlet rushed to fill the silence, turning the grainy video footage of the incident into racings Zapruder film. Local authorities ruled it an accident and did not press charges (a civil suit is pending). But Stewarts long record of trackside outbursts left him little benefit of the doubt in the court of public opinion.I think about all of the amazing things that hes done behind the wheel, says Stewarts dad, Nelson. I hope that wherever he goes from here that people remember those moments again, not just the bad things.His rivals have long seen Stewarts contradictions. There are two Tony Stewarts, says Gordon, who did his retirement tour in 2015, fittingly, with a series of gifts and accolades versus Stewarts lets get this over with approach to 2016. Theres the guy weve all had issues with. And then theres the guy that we all know when cameras arent around. The stories are pretty amazing.Like the time Stewart heard about a group of abused greyhounds and sent his private plane to the West Coast and brought them east to find new homes. That same plane has shown up to fly grieving family members to the bedsides of mortally wounded racers -- as it did for the family of IndyCar racer Justin Wilson one year ago -- and it has done so for members of the same media corps he has often gone to war against.You go down into southern Indiana, where he grew up, and you start asking old retired sprint car racers where they got their wheelchairs, or who helped pay their medical bills or make their rent payments, says Foyt, Stewarts admitted hero, a man who has done the same for Indy 500 veterans. Dont bother asking Tony; he wont tell you about it. Thats not why he does it. He does it because he loves those guys and he loves short-track racing.During the times when his fuse was shortest, Stewart would find his center by racing anywhere and everywhere on weeknights and Saturday nights between NASCAR dates. Sure, he does that to get back to his roots, says Ken Schrader, a former longtime NASCAR racer and legendary moonlighter. But hes also always done it to help these struggling local short-track owners. Tony showing up is instant ticket sales. And hell stand there and sign autographs all night. Hes the best thing to happen to short-track racing in the last 20 years.Before Canandaigua, Stewarts post-NASCAR future was set. It would be the plan that had always existed: be team owner on weekends but spend the rest of his time driving wherever, in whatever, to help his beloved grass-roots racing get back on track. However, among his outspoken public jury are more than a few short-track owners who are now torn. They rely heavily on Stewarts help but worry about the consequences of bringing him in front of those who they believe identify more with Ward than with the superstar.With only a few races to go in his NASCAR career, Stewart isnt so much planning 2017 as he is counting down to the end of 2016. Hes unhappy with the current state of the sport: He hates the cars, hates the Chase format and hates what he sees as NASCARs inability to right its downward popularity curve.Next year hell still own his Cup Series team, but hell also still own his short-track team, not to mention some short tracks and an entire short-track series. He expects to enter 40 to 50 races but only after offseason surgery on the ailing back that sidelined him in the spring.People ask me all the time, whats next? Stewart says as he prepares to give two-seater hot-lap rides to the Smoke Show participants. The answer is a lot, I just dont know the exact details yet. I know Im going to be racing. Im retiring from Sprint Cup, not racing. I know Im going to be involved in racing until Im dead and gone.So while 2017 is up in the air, whats next right this minute at the Texas Motor Speedway is not. His interview over, Stewart slides behind the wheel of a bright red Chevy SSR. Riding shotgun is Smoke Show participant Al Schwarz of Ferris, Texas. Per Schwarzs request, Stewart drives the car out onto the frontstretch of Texas Motor Speedway and starts doing a burnout, smoking the tires up to a squeal that sounds like they might explode. The ride belonged to Schwarzs late father. He has photographers capturing the moment and will have the best image painted on the hood of the car, along with an image of his father looking down from racing heaven.I know there are people who dont like Tony Stewart, Schwarz says, breathless after the doughnuts. But when I told him what I wanted to do, he didnt even hesitate. I dont care what anyone says, thats a good man right there.Fittingly, the legacy of NASCARs most controversial driver might never be clear. But love him or hate him, you will notice that hes gone. Kaleb McGary Jersey . Woodson said during a radio interview Thursday that the Knicks Carmelo Anthony doesnt get the same calls as other superstars. Chris Lindstrom Falcons Jersey . Scott Kazmir allowed four hits in seven shutout innings, Michael Brantley hit a two-run homer in a three-run first inning and the Indians maintained their hold on an AL wild-card spot with a 4-1 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday night. . Louis Cardinals. Victorino is batting sixth and playing right field after missing two games because of back tightness. Kendall Sheffield Youth Jersey . Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan scored shootout goals, and backup goalie Cam Talbot earned his second win in two nights as the Rangers shook off a late tying tally and beat the Maple Leafs 2-1 Monday night. Qadree Ollison Falcons Jersey . Arsenal failed to take full advantage of its main rivals stumbles on Saturday as substitute Gerard Deulofeu levelled with a hard shot from a tight angle in the 84th minute to give Everton a deserved point. Ahead of a crucial fortnight that will see them play against Napoli in the Champions League, Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal leads by five points ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea. Colorado Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu won the National League batting title with a .348 average after sitting out both Saturday and Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.LeMahieu also sat out Wednesday and Thursday at San Francisco. He went 0-for-2 on Friday in the Rockies 4-1 win over the Brewers and left the game in the fourth inning with a .348 average, one point better than that of?Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, who has been sidelined with a strained buttocks.Certainly one of the best storylines of this season, especially when you take into account the guy, the type of guy DJ is and how hard hes worked to achieve that, Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. Thats no small achievement to win a batting title in this league.Weiss said Friday that if Murphy were healthy, he would have let LeMahieu play and let the two players contest the batting title on the field.Its a unique situation because Murphys injured, hhes not playing, Weiss said.dddddddddddd If hes playing, they could fight it out. I dont want DJ to lose a batting title that way [with Murphy not playing], so Im going to pay attention to the math. My philosophy, whether you like it or not, is Im going to take care of the guys who take care of our team. DJs one of those guys that takes care of our team.Murphy?last played in the field on Sept. 17. He appeared as a pinch hitter on Sunday but was 0-for-1 to keep his average at .347.LeMahieu told reporters before Sundays game that he understands Weiss thinking, but it has been a difficult week to sit on the bench.It hasnt been a very fun week, he said, according to the Denver Post.Following the game, he told reporters it was a relief to win the batting crown.The Associated Press contributed to this report. Cheap Jerseys China NFL Jerseys Cheap NBA Jerseys Wholesale NHL Jerseys Wholesale MLB Jerseys Cheap Soccer Jerseys China Wholesale NCAA Jerseys Wholesale Football Jerseys Wholesale Basketball Jerseys Wholesale Baseball Jerseys ' ' '