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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March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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