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

3 Comments

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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

Leave a comment

Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).