Tough man: Tony Stewart’s top-five Bristol finish was huge

Prior to Bristol, Tony Stewart's 2014 season had been a struggle.

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Believe it or not, the happiest guy at Bristol Sunday night might not have been Carl Edwards. It actually might have been Tony Stewart with his fourth-place finish after starting 37th. I think you heard and felt the excitement from Tony in his post-race interview. I know that Tony has snarled at the media the last few weeks about continuing to ask about his leg and how he is or isn’t progressing.

You know what, though? The guy was hurt and hurt seriously. The guy endured three surgeries. We all knew that Bristol was going to be an absolutely huge test for Tony Stewart. It’s one of the most physically-demanding races that these drivers face all season. Remember, we are talking about 500 laps around that little high-banked half-mile track.

All of us inside that garage know that Tony is nowhere near 100 percent yet. The guy is still hurting. I know one thing for sure, though: I am not going to bring up his injury anymore. To do what he did Sunday in the condition he’s in was absolutely huge. That was an extremely fast-paced race Sunday night once they finally got restarted. Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and I were up in the television booth just shaking our head in disbelief of how fast it was.

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Trust me, there was no laying back. All these drivers were racing extremely hard. So for Tony to run all 500 laps and get a top-five finish was awesome. This also has to be huge for Tony’s new crew chief, Chad Johnston, too. They had nothing short of a disaster at Las Vegas the week before. Even though they finally found out what had happened to the car at Las Vegas, you just know that Chad’s confidence must have been down, too.

Chad made the switch at the end of the season to move from Michael Waltrip Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing to become Tony’s crew chief. Also remember that while Tony’s leg was healing, there was no preseason testing with Tony. For a new driver/crew chief combination not to be able to work together in the offseason just makes that mountain harder to climb. If that wasn’t bad enough, the first three races of 2014 for the No. 14 car were very dismal at best.

So how it all came together at Bristol is huge for the organization, the sponsors, for Chad and especially ol’ Smoke.