Fowler: In Chase or in pits, if Tony Stewart's behind you, watch out

He gooses Kevin Harvick’s wife, his Chase competition

scott.fowler@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 19, 2012 

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JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 14: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, looks on in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2012 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images for NASCAR)

JUSTIN EDMONDS — Getty Images for NASCAR

— Tony Stewart is lurking.

In the point standings, the defending Sprint Cup champion is third. In the race for new sponsors, he’s a favorite to land a big fish. And in the pits, don’t let him sneak up behind you – as DeLana Harvick found out once again last weekend.

Stewart was at Charlotte Motor Speedway Tuesday, promoting the Oct. 13 Bank of America 500 and the Wounded Warrior Project, for which the bank is raising up to $250,000. (Go to bankofamerica.com/troopthanks for details).

But mostly the three-time champion was asked about his sponsorship issues and his playful pre-race grab of Harvick’s rear before last weekend’s race, caught on ESPN’s cameras and a popular YouTube video the past few days.

Stewart called the grab “old news” – he sneaked behind Harvick, with her husband Kevin a few feet away, and goosed her. She jumped, spun around quickly to see who had grabbed her, then hugged Stewart.

“I guess it’s just the first time the cameras caught us,” Stewart said. “We’ve been doing that since I was driving the Nationwide car with them. We’ve always joked around and horsed around like that. ... I didn’t even know that anybody even saw it. It wasn’t something that was out of the norm for us. Kevin comes up and gets me, I get DeLana, DeLana gets both of us.”

When it was suggested that Stewart’s grab (which CNN also has shown) had gotten more attention than Brad Keselowski’s win in the first of the 10 Chase for the Championship races, Stewart said that was “pathetic.”

As for the racing itself, Stewart won his third career championship in 2011 by winning a stunning five of the 10 Chase races. This year, though, he said the champion could win zero.

“Everybody wants to focus on the wins,” Stewart said. “But it’s not wins that are going to win you the championship. It’s more points over 10 weeks than anybody else.”

As usual, the CMS race is smack in the middle of the Chase (and is the only prime-time race in the final 10). Stewart, 41, has only won the fall race at Charlotte once, but said he wanted to badly this year.

“This is a home race,” he said. “There’s just that sense of pride. You’re playing in your own backyard.”

Besides trying to defend his 2011 championship, Stewart the car owner has to worry about finding a new primary sponsor. Office Depot, one of Stewart’s two main sponsors, recently announced it was not renewing its sponsorship of his No.14 Chevrolet for 2013. Bass Pro Shops has been heavily rumored as a replacement, but Stewart said he had nothing to report on that front Tuesday.

“I wish I did,” he said.

But there’s little doubt he will make some more news soon. Stewart is one of NASCAR’s longtime stars – no longer as tempestuous as he once was, but just as smart and just as talented.

“Anything I do gets that attention, which still amazes me,” Stewart said. “I guess it’s a compliment.”

It is. Stewart can drive anything and drive it very well. With those three championships and 47 career wins, he will one day be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

In the meantime, though, you would be well advised – whether you are on or off the track – not to let him sneak up behind you.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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