Tony Stewart is learning the hard way that fame comes at a hefty price.
The driver, who's in his sophomore season on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, already is tired of being "on stage" all the time, and he's hinted it may run him out of the business.
"I guess it's been overwhelming to me because I'm kind of just your average Joe," Stewart said. "I don't like having all the attention."
A year ago, Stewart set a new standard for rookies on the popular stock car circuit by winning a record three races and finishing fourth in the series championship.
As expected, Stewart now finds himself besieged by race fans -- on and off the track -- who want autographs and photographs. What bothers Stewart most is the fact that many of those requests come in the garage, an area race teams consider their sanctuary.
"It's a distraction," Stewart said. "This is our work area."
Most of the drivers who make up the Winston Cup Series roster would like the garage area restricted from adoring fans, but they understand their position requires a large degree of availability. After all, anyone in the sport is free to leave.
"For the most part, I think fans just want to meet the drivers," said Jeremy Mayfield. "They want to come up, say hello and shake a hand.
"When drivers talk about signing autographs, I think they are basically talking about meeting fans. That just happens to be something that comes along with meeting a fan. We all know how important the fans are to our sport. Without them, we're basically a hobby class."
John Andretti, whose uncle is Mario Andretti and car owner is Richard Petty -- two of the most-sought autographs in motorsports history -- said his experience has taught him that signing autographs and meeting fans is part of the business.
"It's part of being in the limelight," he said. "It's not always convenient, and it's not always the best time, but it is just what you do because of what you are, who you are and where you are.
"I grew up watching Mario Andretti sign autographs, and I've seen what Richard Petty does. Those are guys who will probably never be topped when it comes to racing accomplishments. I figure I can't go wrong following their examples, so I sign and shake hands as long as I can. I owe that much to what they built in the sport."
"It's getting to where it's not fun doing this anymore," he said. "Don't you wonder why there's no drivers that stand outside their trailers (in the garage area)? Because they can't. That's the part that makes it not very much fun for all of us."
Jim Mattei, who now owns the team formerly owned by Geoffrey Bodine, has a new partner. Jim Smith, who owns the trucks driven by NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points leader Mike Wallace, bought a piece of Mattei Motorsports this week to bolster one of the few remaining single-car operations in the sport.
The new team will be known as Ultra Mattei Motorsports.
"I've said all along I'll do whatever it takes to build this team," said Mattei. "Forming a partnership with Jim Smith, with his talents and knowledge, will certainly enhance what we have been trying to do with this race team and with the NationsRent Chevrolet. We're in this to win. This partnership will put us in victory circle a lot quicker than my trying to do this alone.
"I was a very successful businessman who went racing. Jim Smith is a very successful racer who became a very successful businessman. I think we can do some great things together."
The new team apparently won't make any major changes. Driver Michael Waltrip and crew chief Bobby Kennedy will maintain their positions.
"Jim Mattei has brought a lot to this team," Waltrip said. "He has brought a lot of stability and has really performed above and beyond what anyone could expect out of him with his background. He came in and bought a team; he has a great sponsor in NationsRent, and the employees know he is going to spend the money it takes to be competitive."
Micah Roberts, the sports book manager for Wild Wild West Casino in Las Vegas, has established the odds for The Winston all-star race on May 20 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.
According to Roberts, Bobby Labonte is the favorite at 4-to-1.
The Winston is a 70-lap race staged in three segments -- a pair of 30-lappers and a final 10-lap sprint. The race is open only to the 20 most-recent race winners, all-star winners and former series champions on the Winston Cup Series. Two more spots in the main event will be filled by qualifying races of drivers who aren't in The Winston field.
The winner of the all-star race will earn at least $500,000.
"We've included The Winston in our wagering before, but this year marks the first time we're offering odds on The Winston Open (qualifying race)," Roberts said. "The wagering on Cup races has grown so much in Las Vegas. It's become one of the big sports, joining the four majors. Since I started putting odds up for the Wild Wild West and all six of the Station Casino's properties, I have seen a huge rise in action.
"This is a wide-open race where anyone has a chance. I'm leaning toward Mike Skinner to win The Winston Open and maybe go on to take The Winston. He has been one of the best at staying close to the lead early. Another driver likely to move up by winning The Winston Open is Ricky Rudd."
The current odds are: Labonte 4-to-1; Jeff Burton 5-to-1; Jeff Gordon 6-to-1; Dale Earnhardt 6-to-1; Dale Jarrett 6-to-1; Mark Martin 6-to-1; Stewart 7-to-1; Ward Burton 10-to-1; Rusty Wallace 15-to-1; Terry Labonte 15-to-1; Dale Earnhardt Jr. 20-to-1; Jeremy Mayfield 22-to-1; Bill Elliott 28-to-1; John Andretti 35-to-1; Joe Nemechek 40-to-1; Kenny Irwin 42-to-1; Michael Waltrip 50-to-1 and Darrell Waltrip 166-to-1.
CART's rules call for the disqualification of a driver who runs over a crewman on pit road. Michael Andretti did that April 30 at Rio and received a stop-and-go penalty.
Now the sanctioning body is adding a little more punch to Andretti's penalty fining him $17,500 and stripping him of four points in the championship standings.
"After meeting with team representatives and careful review of the facts, I met with the stewards at our first available opportunity, and we have chosen to remove the points and awards gained by the No. 6 car team, thereby having the same effect as exclusion at the time of the event," said CART official J. Kirk Russell. "The finishing position will remain as part of the event record, but the points and awards will not be redistributed. Given the nature and the severity of the incident, we would have excluded the No. 6 car from the remainder of the event. However, the information available at the time of the event did not support the action."
Crewman Todd Tice suffered a broken right leg and ankle after Andretti's car struck him during a pit stop.
PIT STOPS: CART's
Chip Ganassi and Winston Cup's Felix Sabates are talking about becoming partners on the stock car circuit. If they join forces, they will put a new team on the track in 2001. Reports out of South Carolina have the sale of Cale Yarborough 's team completed. Yarborough's team hasn't raced this year after three other proposed sales have fallen through..Xpress Motorsports will cut back on its NASCAR Busch Series schedule until it feels it's compete. The move also means driver Hut Stricklin is out of a job and Derrike Cope is the new driver..Jeremy Mayfield was fined $25,000 after jumping on his roof in Victory Lane April 30 at the California Speedway. Last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Richmond, Va., and he also jumped on his roof. However, young Earnhardt wasn't fined. The reason: Mayfield bent the roof below the minimum height of 51 inches; Earnhardt didn't.