Sexy? Why Tony Stewart is so happy about playing in the dirt

Tony Stewart is happy in his new role at the Chili Bowl Nationals.

Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images

Tony Stewart isn’t competing as a driver in this year’s Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla.

So why is he so happy? There is only one answer that makes any sense.

He really enjoys playing in the dirt.

Stewart may not be driving in this year’s premier indoor dirt-track extravaganza, but he is playing a very important role as a member of the Chili Bowl track preparation crew.

It’s an exclusive club, made up of only four guys — Stewart, Wes Smith, Martin Edwards and the legendary Brad "Gravel" Chandler. Stewart is the only one of the group who made an estimated $5 million or more last year.

But while Stewart is a three-time champion in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, his heart always has seemed closer to the world of short-track dirt racing.

So it should come as no surprise that Stewart has been at the Chili Bowl all week — dressed not in a driver’s fire suit but in T-shirts and jeans. And he’s been behind the wheel of one of the slowest vehicles of his career — a huge orange tractor that strains to make top speed at 10 miles per hour.

Yet it appears Stewart couldn’t be happier.

NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson unstoppable in early Chili Bowl action

He often runs the tractor at his own dirt track, Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, and always has enjoyed getting helping get that facility ready for some high-profile events. But at the Chili Bowl, the stakes are even higher.

"There are four of us here (on the track crew) who can absolutely destroy this week," Stewart told USA Today between Chili Bowl runs the other day. "If one of us screws this thing up, we could have a bunch of people mad at us in one night. It’s like any other race track. The guys who prep it don’t get enough credit. This is just as competitive as working on the cars.

"The guy who runs the grader here — I’ve never seen anybody better. This track stuff is real soft. You can take a key and scratch through the top, it’s so soft. But to be as precise as he is with that blade — it’s sexy to watch."

Sexy? Playing in dirt?

You know it.

So after volunteering his services to event promoter Emmett Hahn, Stewart is working long days and nights to ensure the quarter-mile indoor track is as close to perfect as possible for the throngs of racers getting after it in the biggest event in Midget racing.

And he’s not complaining about the 10- to 12-hour work days. Not even close — as he noted on his own Twitter account.

Stewart also discussed his new part-time job with a local Tulsa television station.