Tony Stewart carries a certain don't-mess-with-the-bull aura that's pretty freaking intimidating, mostly because if you do you'll get the horns.
So when Brad Keselowski spun Stewart on pit road in the middle of the Coca-Cola 600, there was a reason for the desperation in Keselowski's voice as he radioed his spotter to relay an apology to the defending champ. It's the same reason why he grew irritated with said spotter for telling him to relax and not worry about Stewart: you don't relax and not worry about Stewart unless you don't care about payback.
For years, Stewart has been the closest thing the Cup Series has had to Dale Earnhardt Sr. since Senior's death in 2001. Quick witted off the track and badge-carrying cop on it, Stewart almost always gets the better of whoever he's going up against. Keselowski is smart enough to know this; smart enough to know that an angry Stewart is a liability, and when you're battling for a championship, you don't need a liability, real or perceived.
And so he was adamant that his spotter relay an apology to Stewart, letting him know that he didn't even see him when he ran into him on pit road.
"He took the blame for it but I thought it was my fault," Keselowski said afterward. "It's one of those deals where you're coming in and going out; it's like being in a Wal-Mart parking lot and you're both going for the same parking spot and sometimes things happen."
This is a power Smoke has and it's something worth noting. His competition, some of them anyway, fear being on his bad side, which can only work in his favor. When you know they care about what you think, then you clearly can get inside their head whenever you want. It's what Kevin Harvick did to Denny Hamlin a few years ago and it worked.
Stewart's smart. No need to ruff up Keselowski now. But bet on the three-time champ putting this incident in his back pocket, ready to pull it out whenever it'll serve a purpose. And when he does, it won't be because he'll be holding a grudge, but because it's an edge Keselowski just gave him.