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After last event as Cup driver, Tony Stewart still has a lot of work to do

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, who is an inspiration and friend of Tony Stewart, leads a special tribute to Smoke. Stewart then takes the stage to thank all his fans and explain that he doesn't see himself as retiring.

Tony Stewart has probably lost count of the number of times he’s had to remind people of a simple fact.

He’s not retiring from driving race cars, just the kind that have NASCAR labels on them.

Stewart brought up this point in what was technically his last interview as a NASCAR driver at Friday night’s Sprint Cup Awards banquet in Las Vegas.

“This isn’t the last time I’m going to talk to you guys,” Stewart said after the ceremony, which included a surprise appearance and tribute by musician Eddie Vedder. “I’ve said it all along through this whole year, the reason this isn’t a big deal to me is I’m going to be around, I’m going to see you guys like I always see you, just a different role. If I was retiring and walking away from the sport I would be a lot more emotional about it. But it’s literally just changing roles. I’m not going anywhere.”

In fact, Stewart will only have about 14 days of downtime in the coming months because of his other commitments in the racing community.

“If I showed you my phone you would cry,” Stewart said.

After Dec. 16, Stewart will have 10 days off before diving into a schedule that begins with working at the Tulsa Shootout in Oklahoma.

After four days at home in Columbus, Indiana, Stewart then goes to Talladega to watch another dirt race before returning to Tulsa for the Chili Bowl.

Eventually, Stewart will be back at a NASCAR facility, but firmly in his role as an owner while Clint Bowyer takes over for him in the No. 14 Ford.

“I’m looking forward to having Clint even though I think I’m going to have a lot more gray hairs from Clint than I have now,” Stewart joked.

Bowyer wasn’t in attendance at the Awards Banquet, but instead was an enjoying a day of hunting while his future boss was being honored for his 18-year NASCAR career.

“He sent a picture today, he was deer hunting and I said ‘You look a lot happier deer hunting than I am about putting a tuxedo on here in 30 minutes,’” Stewart said of Bowyer, who will join Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch in Stewart-Haas Racing’s stable of drivers.

Bowyer spent 2016 with HScott Motorsports, an experience that ended with him 27th in points and filing a lawsuit against the team, which was quickly settled.

“I know he’s excited about it,” Stewart said. “I know last year wasn’t at all the year he wanted to have. I kept telling him, you could tell when he was really getting down, I told him to be patient. ‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel.’”

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