Tony Stewart lost the Subway 500 Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Stewart finished second to Jeff Gordon, so he didn't win. He has not yet won this year. He's been wrecked. He's had fuel pumps go bad. He's caught bad breaks with caution flags.
This is racing's cruel reality.
Winning, even for the very best, is only a sometimes thing. Stewart has lost 263 times in the Nextel Cup Series, but his winning percentage of 9.93 percent puts him 24th best on the all-time list in the sport and third among active drivers.
Learning to lose begins at the basic level of any sport. If you're 7 and playing T-ball, as soon as somebody starts to keep score you start learning how to lose. Nobody likes losing - no champion has ever developed that capacity. But every athlete is responsible for how he acts after a setback, and as good as Stewart is at being a race car driver he's that bad at handling disappointment.
I know some fans want to make Stewart a hero for stomping away after the Phoenix race without talking to the media. There's nothing gallant or heroic about it, and it seems an entire payroll of people apparently have it as part of their job description to make excuses for Stewart's unwillingness to do that part of his job.
Monday, ESPN sent reporter Shannon Spake to try to find out why Stewart didn't talk and how Stewart felt about finishing second at Phoenix in a close battle with Gordon. J.D. Gibbs, the president of Joe Gibbs Racing, wound up answering her questions. Here's what that means. The president of Joe Gibbs Racing had time to deal with the media to explain away why his driver didn't. How does that make any sense?
Stewart was so frustrated after crashing out at Texas a week earlier that he talked about how he felt like retiring. He spent the next week explaining he wasn't serious, and some believe he didn't speak after Phoenix for fear of saying something else he'd have to take back. But the media didn't "goad" Stewart into anything. They asked questions and Stewart answered. On both sides of that, people were doing their jobs.
It stinks to lose. I get that.
But when Mark Martin lost the Daytona 500 under frustrating circumstances, Martin did his job. When Jeff Burton lost to Kyle Busch at Bristol, Burton did his job. When Gordon lost to Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville, Gordon did his job. In each of those cases the media did their jobs.
The next time Stewart wins, will reporters refuse to talk to Stewart to "pay back" the two-time champion for his snub Phoenix? Of course not. We'll ask questions and report what Stewart says to the fans who are the people who've allowed Stewart to become a very wealthy man as he's been able to live out the racing dreams he had from the first time he climbed into a Go Kart back home in Indiana.
In other words, we'll do what we're supposed to do. That's all anybody is asking Stewart to do. When he finishes in the top three in a Nextel Cup race, he's supposed to talk afterward.
Do the job. Handle responsibility. Act like a grown-up. Surely the best driver in NASCAR can handle that.