The good people who cover NASCAR for a living didn't seem to mind too much when Tony Stewart couldn't win a race for eight months. "Smoke" lasted the entire regular season without a single first-place finish, and not a single tear was shed for him in print or on the airwaves.
Many racing fans probably forgot that Stewart and the media don't get along so well.
If so, they've been reminded of it quickly with Stewart's success in the first two races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Victories at Chicagoland and Loudon have vaulted him to the top of the Chase standings, and the two-time Cup champion is relevant again.
Back in the headlines, Stewart has taken every opportunity to dig at the assembled reporters, as usual.
His behind-the-hauler media sessions this season have infamously become a lesson in barb-flinging. He created his own controversy Sunday by casually mentioning he had eliminated "dead weight" to spur his turnaround, then refused to answer questions as the what in the world he meant.
"No, you can't ask anything," Stewart instructed ESPN's Ed Hinton.
The reporter Stewart has victimized perhaps more than any other, SBNation's Jeff Gluck, is not enthused about No. 14's resurgence. At least Gluck is honest about it. Many reporters would insist they don't take Stewart's pot shots personally, but Gluck has too much experience with Stewart to delude himself into thinking it's just Tony being Tony.
"Like many others, I once had hopes of a good, professional relationship with Stewart," Gluck wrote Monday. "When I joined the now-defunct NASCAR Scene magazine in 2007 and thus got on the racing beat full time, I was naive enough to think if I treated a driver with respect and asked good questions, I would get respect in return."
Gluck is the reporter Stewart has singled out more than once about collecting for a "Gluck retirement fund," even passing a hat at one news conference. The sting of that running joke — which only Stewart seemed to find funny — was heightened when Gluck was actually laid off.
So why write about Stewart now if the offense runs so deep? As Gluck notes, reporters don't write for themselves; they write for fans. If the fans want to read about Stewart's improbable turnaround, it's the scribes' job to absorb his verbal arrows and give the fans what they want.
Stewart is newsworthy again, which means reporters will be asking more questions, much to Stewart's — and their own — chagrin.
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