Tony Stewart is a complicated human being, to say the least. Controversy followed him throughout his racing career, and well after it. However, no one can doubt his drive to win. Never was that more apparent than during a race in August 2004 when he overcame his own gut — literally — to take the checkered flag.
Tony Stewart’s stomach goes bad
On August 15, 2004, 43 drivers took the green flag for the Sirius at the Glen, held at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York. This was one of only two road-course races on the schedule at the time, and Stewart, who started fourth, had as good a shot to win as anyone. He had won this very same race two years earlier on the way to his first championship.
But only 15 laps into the 90-lap race, Tony Stewart realized something was wrong…not with the car, but with his stomach.
He had been suffering from on-and-off stomach cramps all week, and during the race, they flared up again with a vengeance. Unfortunately, in the middle of a race car at full speed, there’s nowhere a driver can turn for relief. Stewart had no choice but to press on.
This couldn’t have come at a more awkward time for the Joe Gibbs Racing team, as they clearly had the dominant car of the race. They only started fourth because the qualifying session had been rained out, forcing the field to be set by owner’s points.
Stewart fights through the pain
In case Stewart could not finish the race, the no. 20 team had a road-course “ringer”, Boris Said, on standby as a relief driver. But Stewart fought on, eventually passing Robby Gordon on lap 43 to retake the lead. A series of cautions later, the lead had fallen to Casey Mears. But another caution on lap 74 gave the ill Stewart a chance to snatch an unlikely win.
Fortunately, Stewart’s cramps subsided somewhat — not completely, but just enough to allow him to focus on his performance. “The good thing is the last 20 laps where I needed to be focused, that’s the one part of the race where they went down a little bit,” he said.
Eventually, the checkered flag fell, and Stewart had held off unheralded Ron Fellows to grab his second win of the season. As soon as the race ended, Stewart’s cramps returned with full force.
Even after the win, the victory lane celebration had to be delayed. Stewart needed time to rest in his hauler and change his firesuit. Evidently, more had gone on inside the car than Stewart was willing to tell anyone.
The aftermath of the Glen
The end of Stewart’s season turned out to be just as stomach-churning as that one race — just in a different way.
2004 was the first season of NASCAR’s “Chase” playoff format. In its early years, only the top 10 drivers after 26 races made the cut. Stewart qualified for the first-ever Chase as the fourth seed. However, his championship hopes effectively ended with a crash at the first postseason race at New Hampshire.
Stewart would finish the year sixth in the points standings, as Kurt Busch took the first playoff-era NASCAR Cup. The following year, Stewart would recover to claim six wins and his second Cup Series title, becoming the only driver ever to win the championship in both the Chase and pre-Chase formats.
Statistics courtesy of Racing-Reference.