Whatever Tony Stewart's made of, it's way different from you and me.
Almost a year to the day after a sprint car wreck crunched his right leg like a stomped pencil, Stewart climbed back into one of those open-wheeled crashes-waiting-to-happen and raced.
Naturally, he won. And the legend of Tony Stewart grows ever larger.
The wreck last year, which ended Stewart's season and hopes for a fourth NASCAR championship, was a defining moment in Stewart's career. On one hand, you had the sensible you're-a-businessman-and-this-is-a-business-man types lecturing Stewart on the fact that he now had responsibilities to others beyond himself: sponsors, investors, employees, etc. On the other, you had the hell-yeah-git-em-Smoke crew, backing any and every ridiculous chance Smoke took, and to hell with the pencilneck geeks who doubted him. You can guess where Stewart himself fell.
Last July, after his second of three sprint car wrecks in just a few weeks, one in which he flipped in vicious fashion, Stewart lectured the media on how this was just how things were done.
"You mortals have got to learn, you guys need to watch more sprint car videos and stuff," he said. "It was not a big deal. It's starting to get annoying this week about that. That was just an average sprint car wreck. When they wreck, they get upside down like that."
One week later, Stewart was in Oskaloosa, Iowa, getting pulled from the wreckage of his sprint car, his right leg shattered. He would miss the next 15 races of the season and wouldn't get back behind the wheel of his day-job car until this year.
Think for a second what would happen if LeBron James put himself out for the season playing pickup basketball, or if Tom Brady ripped a bicep whipping footballs at a dunk tank at a county fair. ESPN would explode with self-righteous indignation, and fans would turn on them en masse.
But Stewart has reached that most hallowed of athlete levels, the point where anything he does, smart or stupid, falls under the heading of "Tony being Tony." You can't tell him anything, certainly not anything he doesn't want to hear, and so he keeps on keepin' on.
"It's my life," Stewart said earlier this year. "I'm going to live my life. It's nobody else's decision, but mine. I think there are a lot worse things I could be doing with my life than what I choose to do."
Which brings us to this past weekend. With a weekend off from racing, Stewart ... went racing. Of course he did. He found himself at the Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Mich., and went out and won. Of course he did.
You could argue that the wreck last year cost Stewart two seasons; right now, he's in 21st place in the Chase standings (19th overall), with no wins and only two top-fives. But recall what he did in 2011: sneaking into the Chase at the last second, then winning the whole thing. If he's on the track, he's dangerous, one way or another.
Stewart's already an assured NASCAR Hall of Famer. Everything else he does from this point on in his career is just icing. Even so, he's the most accessible driver out there, and thus his bandwagon is always recruiting new riders. Just make sure to buckle your seatbelt first.
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