NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 25 Tony Stewart

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Tony Stewart

Season finish: 25th

2014 Season Stats: 0 wins, 3 top-5, 7 top-10, 1 Pole.

What went right: From an overall standpoint, Stewart enjoyed his second championship in four seasons as a team co-owner when Kevin Harvick won the 2014 Sprint Cup crown. But as far as Stewart’s own performance, there were very few things that went right. He earned just one pole (Texas, spring) and his best season finishes were third (Bristol, spring), fifth the following week at Fontana, and fourth in the Chase race at Martinsville. One other positive, at least indirectly: Stewart’s pit crew was “traded” to Kevin Harvick’s team for the Chase, a key factor in Harvick’s winning the championship.

What went wrong: From a performance standpoint, Stewart suffered through the worst season of his Sprint Cup career. He started the season still not fully recovered from the devastating sprint car wreck he had in August 2013 that caused several fractures to his right leg. To his credit, Stewart fought through the pain and refused to get out of the race car during the early part of the 2014 season, even if he still wasn’t fully 100 percent. Then there were a number of un-Stewart-like statistics, including failing to win even one race in a season for the first time in his Cup career (which dates back to 1999). In fact, he had single-season career lows in wins (0), top-fives (just 3) and top-10s (7). He also had his second-lowest single-season lead-lap finishes (just 20), and had the worst finishing average per race (20.0) in a single season in his career. Stewart just didn’t drive like the Smoke we’ve known for 15 seasons. Of course, his season was also greatly impacted by the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, for which Stewart voluntarily sat out the three Sprint Cup races following the dirt track race tragedy in upstate New York in August.

2015 Prospectus: Crew chief Chad Johnston returns for a second season. With Tony having two additional recent surgeries on his right leg (fourth and fifth surgeries, respectively), he should hopefully be 100 percent by the time of the Daytona 500. As difficult as the last two seasons have been for Stewart, he’s not a quitter. He’ll work harder than he ever has, if that’s what it takes, to get back to the Smoke of old. In fact, we would not be surprised to see Stewart become Comeback Driver of the Year in 2015. Of course, if he has a third straight season of difficulty, one has to wonder where he’ll go from there. We still think Stewart has several more race wins and perhaps at least one more championship in him. What better time to do so than in 2015, one year after his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick, did so.

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