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But for Stewart’s faithful army of NASCAR fans, 2017 will be a very strange experience. USA TODAY Sports’ online survey of nearly 250 fans who said Stewart was their favorite NASCAR driver revealed the majority of them — 70% — already have decided which driver will earn their loyalty starting in 2017.
And of those who said they’ve made up their minds, Kyle Larson was the top choice (picked by 24%), followed by Kevin Harvick (18%) — who drives for Stewart’s race team — and Chase Elliott (13%).“Tony means a lot to me and his racing background is pretty much the path I followed the most,” Larson told USA TODAY Sports when informed of the survey results.
“So for fans to say I’m their guy once he’s gone is really cool.”It’s fitting many Stewart fans have opted to start rooting for Larson, because Stewart was one of those who hyped the driver’s talent from the start.
Three years ago, Stewart was asked if Larson reminded him of himself, and Stewart said Larson was even better.
Tony Stewart, born May 20, 1971, in Columbus, Ind., is a three time NASCAR Cup Series champion (2002, '05, 11), the 1997 Indy Racing League (Indy Car) champion and the 1995 USAC Triple Crown champion.
Tony Stewart expressed his excitement for his final Sprint Cup season, Jan. 24, 2014, the Grand Jury completed its investigation and announced no criminal charges would be filed against Stewart.
21 during NASCAR media week, but two weeks later, Stewart-Haas Racing announced the driver would miss the beginning of the season after breaking a vertebra in his back in an ATV accident. was struck and killed by a car driven by Tony Stewart during an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua (N. President Barack Obama (right) talks with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart during an event to honor him and the other 2011 Sprint Cup Series drivers at the White House on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, celebrates in after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 and the 2011 Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2011 in Homestead, Florida.
One third of them said they have rooted for the driver since his Indy Car days — some even dating back to USAC — while an additional 56% said they have been Stewart supporters for more than a decade.
His fans certainly paid attention to that comment.“He best emulates Tony's career path: A dirt driver who came from nearly nothing to become a Sprint Cup competitor, all without his parents’ pocketbook,” said Cody Nigh, a 22-year-old from California.Larson isn’t as much of a character as Stewart and is more reserved, but can be both wickedly funny and sharply opinionated — just to a lesser degree publicly than Stewart. It's certainly not boring.”Larson laughed when told some fans said they liked his opinions in addition to his driving.“You’ve got to speak your opinion every now and then, but I feel like I pick and choose my battles maybe a little more than Tony does,” Larson said, chuckling.Still, fans have picked up on those traits.“As might be expected from a Stewart fan, I like my drivers with a big personality,” said Jacob Fisher of Salisbury, N. “Guys like Stewart and Larson will not hesitate to make their opinions known — good, bad or otherwise. “I don’t want to get called to the NASCAR hauler as often as he has in his career.Maybe as my career and stats get better, I can voice my opinion a little more.”Stewart’s fans are a loyal bunch who have stuck with him for years.
Tony Stewart is about to begin the final laps of his NASCAR career, a 10-week push in the Chase for the Sprint Cup where he’ll be focused on winning a fourth championship.
Stewart has said several times he’s looking forward to the next chapter — a break from the weekly grind, plus returning to his passion: sprint car races.