The rumors say Tony Stewart will never race again.
The rumors say he is selling his stake in Stewart/Haas Racing, climbing out of the car, retiring from the sport at the age of 43.
The rumors say he is going to hire on as a line worker at GM ... or work the second shift flippin' patties with Elvis at Burger King ... or float an "NCIS: Laotto" outline to the fennelheads in Hollywood in which he plays a small-town driving instructor in Indiana who suddenly gets the yen to be Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
Think all of the immediate aforementioned sounds sillier than kittens on ether?
Well, so does the other aforementioned, all that tripe about Stewart never racing and selling his race team and strolling off into some leadfoot sunset.
Truth is we live in fertile times for the rumor mill, and it accommodates by churning out grist 24/7/365. Most of it isn't fit for human consumption, but we consume it, anyway. Because if the interwhosit has given a lot of it the look and sound of authenticity, it's really just the same old watercooler tale-swapping in another form.
And so, last time, here is what we know, and all we know, about Tony Stewart right now: He's sitting out a third Sprint Cup race, this one the marquee night race at Bristol, since his car struck and killed Kevin Ward in a dirt-track race somewhere in Middle of Nowhere America. Jeff Burton will again occupy his seat in the No. 14 Chevy. And Stewart himself remains in seclusion, having made no public appearances or statements since the incident.
Which of course creates the ideal vacuum for wild tales to sprout like thistles in an untended garden. But they are only that, wild tales.
As to the rest, the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that Stewart indeed remains distraught over what happened that Saturday night, and not yet in any frame of mind to climb back in a race car. Whether he will ever be in a frame of mind to do so, no one yet knows.
You don't strap into one of these muscle machines, or at least you shouldn't, unless you're feeling bulletproof. It's ultimately a testosterone-fueled fantasy, but it's the only way to go about a pursuit that requires you to do what most rational people would consider at least mildly insane. Until Stewart can get that feeling back, he's wise to stay as far away from his chosen line of work as he can.
And if and when he does come back?
Who knows, even then, if he'll be the same Tony Stewart. Bad wrecks change drivers -- it happened to Darrell Waltrip at the end of his career -- and so does getting intimate with death. Or at least one would assume.
But of course, assuming is where we came in with this. And so we'll go out the same way.
Tony Stewart isn't racing this week.
Beyond that, no assumptions need apply.