Tony Stewart isn't retiring from racing. He's simply waving the white flag on NASCAR competition.
On Wednesday, the USAC Triple Crown winner, three-time Cup and IndyCar champion offered just a glimmer of what path his life will take after racing.
Chili Bowl? Rolex 24 at Daytona? Knoxville Nationals? 24 Hours of Le Mans?
Why leaving NASCAR career behind is different for him
Stewart isn't ruling anything out. Once the NASCAR season ends and the screws are removed from his back (the result of a dune buggy accident in January), it's game-on for Stewart.
"Here's the reality, it's going to end whether I'm ready for it or not," Stewart said. "In eight weeks it's going to be over. There's no anxiety attached to it by any means. I think it's much easier than a Mark Martin scenario or some of these other guys, because that's all they did. That's all they did for work, and then their personal life was their personal life.
"You look at all the stuff I have going on. I'm going to be a 50-percent owner in four Cup teams. We're adding an Xfintiy program. I've got Eldora Speedway. I've got the Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions. We've got Donny Schatz's Sprint Car program — and we've got my Sprint Car program. We've got other cars I'm going to be driving outside of my cars. I'm pretty comfortable with what I've got going on."
Busy schedule for next year
Stewart is looking to run 40 to 50 races in 2017 — mostly on dirt. He says his first race will be on pavement but he's not ready to disclose where.
"Everybody goes, 'What are you going to do next year?' I'm like whatever I want. Finally. It's like the first time in 18 to 20 years that I'm not going to be on NASCAR's schedule. There are weekends I will be at the track Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are weekends when I may not be at the track untilSunday.
"I'm going to have some flexibility in that, and I'm looking forward to being at the NASCAR tracks. But I'm also looking forward to being able to going on Friday and not being in a car at 9:30 in the morning. It's going to be kind of nice to sleep in."
Stewart's calendar will absolutely include the Knoxville Nationals next August. Saturday night's A-Main last month was must-see racing. As a spectator, the Monaco Grand Prix tops Smoke's F1 bucket list.
"I want to go to Monaco," Stewart said. "But I don't think I have fancy enough clothes to go to Monaco and I'm fairly certain I don't have enough money to go to Monaco.
"If Uncle Gene wants to sponsor the trip and give me some allowance to go to the casino every now and then, cause I'm fairly certain if I go to Monaco, I'm going to get into trouble."
Smoke to Le Mans?
Although Stewart's first love is dirt racing, with Stewart-Haas Racing switching to Ford Performance, it opens the door for Stewart to compete in sports cars as well. When asked specifically about LeMans, Stewart said, "It would be a good opportunity, for sure, but I don't know that next year anything has to happen.
"I think part of the fun of next year is not having to have a plan. We're in the beginning of October and I finally have my first official booked race with a car owner for next year."
For now, Stewart will concentrate on the final eight races of the Sprint Cup season. He's currently 15th in the standings, 11 points behind 12th-place Kyle Larson following a miserable 23rd-place finish on Sunday at Loudon.
"We're fighting a very steep, uphill battle this week," Stewart said. "We have to go out and do the best we can this weekend and whatever happens, happens."
Although Stewart has three wins at Dover International Speedway, the site of this weekend's final race before the Round of 12 begins, his last win was three years ago in the spring event. He finished 34th in May at the Monster Mile after the suspension failed on the No. 14 Chevy.
Enjoying it while he can
Regardless of the outcome of Sunday's race, Stewart says he'll cherish the time he has left behind the wheel.
"Am I excited about what I'm doing next year? Yes," Stewart said. "Am I still excited about the eight weeks I have left? Yes. I'm still pretty excited about it. I still get to race with Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz), and I get to race with my guys. And I still get to race a pretty cool race car each week in a pretty cool series.
"I'm going to enjoy these last eight weeks regardless of what happens this weekend. Am I going to be upset if I don't make it to the next round? Absolutely. But that's natural. That's what a competitor should be like. But if we don't, that's not the end of my year. I have seven more weeks after this weekend to do the best I can and try to get another win and finished on a high note."