Tony Stewart was at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, as part of a sponsor promotion that involved him taking a spin in a World War II-era tank. As the NASCAR star stood next to the hulking green vehicle -- adorned with a No. 14 on the turret, of course -- he could think of only one thing that would make the experience better.
"It's not going to be nearly as much fun without something to run over," he said. Sure enough, a speedway public relations official was quick with something to offer -- a die-cast replica of Matt Kenseth's race car. Thanks but no thanks, the driver said.
Of course, it would have been understandable had Stewart taken him up on the gesture, and placed that miniature No. 17 car under the tracks of the M-36 Jackson. Stewart and Kenseth engaged in a dramatic tussle Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, the incident beginning when the two vehicles crashed while racing for position, and ending when Stewart flung his helmet at Kenseth's car. The reigning Sprint Cup champion followed up with harsh words, vowing to run over Kenseth at every opportunity he had for the remainder of the season.
By Tuesday, tensions had relaxed considerably. Stewart said he and Kenseth hadn't talked, and probably wouldn't -- but what happened at Bristol would probably be left behind them nonetheless.
"I can promise you, we'll probably go back and race each other like we always do. When you've got 43 guys every week, or 42 guys and a girl depending on what week it is, and you're all going for the same thing, you're not always going to agree. You are going to disagree at times," Stewart said.
"This isn't the first time something has happened like this, this isn't the first time it's happened with Matt and I. But it's never really lingered on past whatever's happened. We still both have teams that are capable of going out and winning the championship, so you can either spend your time worrying about him, or spend your time worrying about how to win a championship. I find it more productive to figure out how to win a championship. I'm pretty sure he's thinking the same way."
Saturday night, Kenseth referenced two previous on-track issues with Stewart this season, including one at Indianapolis after which the Roush driver said he "pretty much got cussed out" when he tried to discuss the incident with Stewart. Tuesday, Stewart said he was racing in Canada for two days after the Brickyard and wasn't able to talk with Kenseth, although the two did exchange text messages.
They haven't talked this time around, either. "And we won't, probably," said Stewart, at Charlotte on behalf of sponsor Mobil 1. "It's not a big drama if we don't. We've both been through this before. We know what we expect out of each other, and we'll go on into the weekend like we always do. We've been racing each other for 15 years now. It's not like we've not been through this before. We both know what we expect out of each other. Talking about it, it's not a new conversation, so it's not something that has to happen."
Does he still plan to run Kenseth over? "Only if I need to," he said. "Not more than anyone else. You can't guarantee anything's not going to happen, but it's not our intention to go seek him out. We've gotten along in a lot more races than we've disagreed, so we've always gotten through it in the past."
Stewart is currently 10th in Sprint Cup points, and like Kenseth is bound for the Chase. As for the now-famous helmet, Stewart said he still hadn't tracked it down, although he indicated Tuesday it will likely end up in a charity auction somewhere. When he returned to the car Saturday night after the incident, he did so in a different headpiece. "That helmet we threw will never be used in competition again," he said. "It's not safe to do that."
NASCAR also didn't penalize Stewart for the helmet toss, which the driver was relieved about -- because who knows when he might hurl his headpiece in the future. "It may happen again," he said. "I've got a lot of helmets, I've got a lot of races."
- Tony Stewart
- Matt Kenseth