Of course Tony Stewart will get back in a race car. That was the great anti-bombshell today, the keep-the-presses-rolling non-revelation for anyone who knows anything about the race driver known as Smoke -- whose absolute need to be in some seat somewhere is no Smokescreen at all.
What happened that dark night in August has changed him, fundamentally so, and that was evident from the moment he took the first question today. The brash, wise-cracking Indiana boy with the zest for jousting with the media was gone. In his place was the side of Stewart he never showed us: humbler, more introspective, undoubtedly still haunted by Kevin Ward Jr.'s death.'s
But he'll race on, he says. Never gave a thought to retiring.
He'll get back in the car because the car is too much of who he is, even if it's unclear if he and the car will ever have the relationship they once did. Stewart hinted as much over the weekend, saying he doesn't when or if he'll ever climb in a sprint car again, or even go watch sprint cars race. That's a huge admission for a man who regards muscling a sprinter around some no-account dirt track in Flyspeck America as recreation, his way to decompress the way other grabbing a rod and reel and head for some teeming piece of water is for other men.
And as for his day job, aka NASCAR?
Hard to say if he'll ever be the same driver again. The pull is still there -- it's always going to be there -- but whatever lasting effect that night in upstate New York has on him will manifest itself mostly in his right foot. Maybe he lifts it now where he might not have before. Maybe there's just an eyeblink of uncertainty in a calling where absolute certainty is not only a skill but a mandate, the only thing that sometimes will keep you whole and breathing.
Or, maybe Tony Stewart gets it all back, eventually. But if not, it wouldn't be the first time and won't be the last that trauma on the racetrack has stolen something indefinable from some formerly bulletproof leadfoot.
In any case, this leadfoot will continue to drop the hammer. It's what he knows. It's who he is. It's who he always will be.
"There was never a thought in my head about stopping," he said today. "That would take the life out of me."
One more anti-bombshell.