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FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 06:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, is introduced during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images )
FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 06: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, is introduced during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images )

The Smoke We Knew Retired A Long Time Ago

Who is Tony Stewart?  It is a name that NASCAR, and open-wheel, fans can remember like their favorite ice cream.  He won Rookie of the Year in 1999, and won two championships while with Joe Gibbs Racing.

He formed his own team in 2009, and won his third championship in 2011.

Stewart is an owner on many levels.  He owns NASCAR teams, sprint car operations, and Eldora.  He’s as recognized in today’s sport as any driver.

Who is Tony Stewart?

He’s someone who broke the barrier between coming from a car with an open cockpit and incredible aerodynamics to a boxier and heavier stock car, and found success in both.  He is the one that is nicknamed “Smoke,” who experienced anger, and hatred in the garage area, and yet still was winning races and championships.

This is a driver, a man, who bridged a gap in racing, and has expanded into a global force in the world of racing, and has not looked back.

Who is Tony Stewart?

He is all of the above…well, that’s what we remember.

Who is Tony Stewart…now?

He’s a driver who has not won a race since the 2013 season, a season where he would not be at the wheel for the final third of the season.  His broken leg forced him to replace his heavy stock car with a four-wheel scooter.  He’s a man who one year later would try to get back on track, becoming a driver once again, along with being an owner of a four-car operation.

He was a driver doing what he loved to do…race.

And then, one August night, the Tony Stewart we knew…vanished.  One incident, one track…one life.  It was the loss of a fellow racer that took Stewart out of the car once again, at his own choosing.

Three weeks later, he would return, trying to refocus and get back to what he enjoys.

It hasn’t happened.  The Tony Stewart on the track is not the same one that won half the Chase events in 2011 to win a championship, in a tie-breaker no less.

So, who is Tony Stewart?

That’s a question that right now, it has no answer.  This is a man who has experienced something that no one could even fathom, who has to replay that night over and over, and who may possibly never get over it.  Stewart is not the same driver he was last year, or the year before.  The man that is nicknamed “Smoke” has in a sense retired long ago, but never admitted it.

Maybe he is scared to admit that he’s not the same driver he once was.  Even Jeff Gordon, who’s hanging up his helmet at the end of this year, knows he’s not the same driver he was when he was winning all the races and championships in the 1990’s.

Or maybe there’s a sense where Stewart doesn’t know how to occupy his time once he decides to not race NASCAR anymore.

He does have all his owner obligations that he must do, not to mention maintain a very popular, and very recognizable, dirt facility in Ohio.  He is the one who has a stake in his team, so come Monday mornings he’s no longer a driver, but an owner, and a boss.

But, does that answer the question?

The last few years, no one has really known who Tony Stewart is, or if he’s really the same man that he once was.  He still has the same look, maybe with more grey hair and on occasion the grizzly beard.  He has the same smile, demeanor, and the same physique as the Stewart from years ago.

He still has the same desire, to compete, and to win.

So, who is Tony Stewart?  Should we now ask, “Who was Tony Stewart?”

Maybe it is too early to answer the second question, because if Wednesday is any indication, the answer to the first is he is the man who’s deciding to call it a career after next season.  But that isn’t the same answer to use for the second question.

Instead, answer that by stating the accomplishments he’s made, as a driver, owner, and individual.  He’s the one who loaned Dr. Dick Berggren his own personal plane so he could make the induction ceremony into the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame.  He’s the one who took a chance on another open-wheel driver, one named Danica, and stood by his decision to add her to the fold of Stewart-Haas Racing.

He’s the one who can say he won a championship twice as an owner, one of them with a first-year team.

Who is Tony Stewart?

He’s someone who knows his time is coming, but knows the unfortunate incidents that plagued the last few years do not erase everything he’s accomplished.  He’s Smoke, he’s a champion, he’s a driver.

That is Tony Stewart.

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