Reborn Stewart adept at keeping calm, cool

Thursday, July 10, 2003

As the broiling sun beat down on Daytona International Speedway, Tony Stewart sprawled in an easy chair in his cool, darkened motorhome, a contented look on his face.

A tennis match was flickering on the big TV screen in the corner, but the sound was turned down and the defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion wasn't watching. He pursed his lips, thought for a moment and said, "You know, I just got tired of being angry."

This is the new Tony Stewart: a man in control of his emotions and his life.

Racing once consumed him. Now, Stewart enjoys spending time with his infant niece, Emma Rose, riding his motorcycle, and becoming immersed in a new hobby, scuba diving. Stewart is even cutting back on what has been the love of his life: short track racing.

"I've found things outside of racing that I'm enjoying doing, too," he said.

A year ago, as he ground toward his first Cup title, Stewart was often anything but cool and contained.

He added to a reputation as NASCAR's bad boy by punching a photographer, was fined by his sponsor for his conduct, and had strained relations with crew chief Greg Zipadelli and the rest of his crew because of his behavior.

Stewart needed help and he got it, turning to a sports psychologist midway through the season.

The psychologist became a fixture at races, often watching from Stewart's pit.

No longer.

Stewart talks with him occasionally on the telephone, but he's mostly on his own now, and enjoying life more, even though the first half of the 2003 season has not been kind to him.

Engine failures, crashes and other problems have left Stewart with only one victory and eight top 10s in the first 17 races.

"We just haven't had the luck we've had in the past," Stewart said. "I think we've all learned how to deal with it."

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