By Jared Turner
There comes a time in every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver’s life when he must ask himself a simple yet poignant question.
“Have I accomplished pretty much everything I possibly can in this sport?”
If the answer is no, there is every reason to race on. If the answer is yes, there is every reason to quit.
Jeff Gordon asked himself this question before announcing in January that this would be his last season of full-time competition in NASCAR’s top series.
Despite having just wrapped up one of his best seasons in recent memory, the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion came to the conclusion that the time has come for him to step back – if not altogether away – from the job he loves, and move on to the next phase of life.
Even though it’s well within the realm of possibility that Gordon could have continued to win races and contend for championships for several more years, the Hendrick Motorsports driver reached the difficult but astute conclusion that his best driving days have passed.
Now if only Tony Stewart could open up his eyes to the same reality about himself.
Stewart, who will be 44 in May and is actually Gordon’s elder by a couple months, hasn’t won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race since June 2, 2013 at Dover International Speedway.
The past two seasons, he has been forced to take extended breaks; the first coming in 2013 for a broken leg, and the second coming last year following his role in the tragic death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.
But what’s even more troubling than Stewart’s recent tendency toward absenteeism is the depth of his current struggles.
In six races this year, he has nary a top-10 finish and has finished 30th or worse four times. And the most shocking part about it?
This has occurred while his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick, has run roughshod over the competition by earning two wins and five top-two finishes in six events.
So could a new crew chief come in and fix all of Stewart’s problems. It’s certainly possible.
But what’s probable is that Stewart’s best driving days are done. And, if that’s the case, he needs to follow the example of Gordon and bow out gracefully.
Otherwise, he runs the risk of tarnishing his legacy even more than it possibly already has been.