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Stewart joins 'the dark side,' gets radio show rolling

NEW YORK -- Tony Stewart leaned into the microphone in the fishbowl-like room on the 36th floor of the building that houses the Sirius Satellite Radio studios and smiled.

"Getting my first media credential almost made me want to throw up because I'm officially a member now," the 2002 and 2005 Nextel Cup champion told his live radio audience.

Matt Yocum, the co-host of Stewart's new show, laughed and said, "Yes, you are a member of the dark side now."

The driver who once was fined $10,000 for knocking a tape recorder out of a reporter's hand and kicking it under a hauler, who's had more run-ins with media than Paris Hilton has had with paparazzi, has become one of those he loves to hate.

Stewart debuted his weekly two-hour show -- "Tony Stewart Live" -- last week in New York. It officially will begin on Jan. 2 and run every Tuesday at 8-10 p.m. on NASCAR's new satellite home.

"Isn't this proof the sky is falling when they give us a radio show?" Stewart asked Yocum.

Stewart is as entertaining and aggressive behind the microphone as he is behind the wheel, going toe-to-toe with a guest list ranging from 2006 Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to a plumber at Daytona International Speedway to fitness guru Richard Simmons.

The volatile personality that has earned him more than his share of trips to the NASCAR principal's office, otherwise known as the hauler, has been replaced by a playful tone that would soften even the most diehard Stewart haters.

He is so focused on entertaining his listeners that he fails to notice that porn star Jenna Jameson, who has her own show down the hall, walks by his glass cage.

Twice.

"I'm disappointed that I missed that," Stewart deadpanned.

Stewart hopes the show will help him understand the challenges of being in the media the way owning Eldora Speedway has made him understand the challenges of running a track.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has a half-hour show on rival XM Satellite Radio, believes the show will be therapeutic.

"You get ticked off about all this crap and what happened all weekend, that things didn't go the way you wanted it," he said. "Or you get excited. It's like therapy.

"After an hour of my radio show, I'm totally relaxed. Seriously, the radio show is the most favorite thing I do all week, without a doubt."

Johnson, who also has a show on XM Satellite, agreed.

"Getting my first media credential almost made me want to throw up because I'm officially a member now."
-- Tony Stewart

"I'm stoked for you," he told Stewart on the air. "You're going to have a lot of fun with it. The biggest problem I see with your show is you've got Yocum."

To which Stewart, as if he was retaliating against rookie Clint Bowyer at Pocono, struck back hard.

"All of the good radio hosts were taken," he said.

If the first show is an indication, and producer Paul Pabst insists it is, the dialogue will be more about what happens in the lives of the drivers than what happens on the track.

Pabst is encouraging Stewart and Yocum to tell stories they normally only share among friends, such as the time a slightly intoxicated Johnson was stuck on the elevator at Stewart's then-Charlotte house.

Or when Johnson slid belly-first down Stewart's stairs to invent the new sport of stair racing.

Or how Kevin Harvick recently discovered somebody made a 7,000-square-foot mistake in his home to give him a total of 20,000 square feet.

As Stewart noted, 15,000 square feet for Harvick's wife, DeLana, and 5,000 for Harvick.

"The things they want us to talk about are the things we take for granted," Stewart said. "We can talk about Katie Kenseth [wife of Matt Kenseth] coming out with her jogging shorts on and I'm drooling on the window [of my motorcoach].

"You can't feed the race fans enough information. They want to know if you wear underwear, what underwear you wear, what brand, where you buy it, how much you pay for it. If you can give them all that information, they're happy as hell."

Stewart appears happy to share that type of information, something he wasn't so keen on when on the other side of the microphone.

"If you ask me what brand of underwear I wore, I'd think you were crazy and I'd probably never do another interview with you again," Stewart said as he sat at the head of a boardroom table surrounded by reporters after the show. "But that's what the fans want to know."

Stewart hopes to do this without crossing any lines that might embarrass a fellow competitor. He acknowledged some of his stories might be told using "Driver X" instead of the driver's name.

"I'm sure we'll go over the line before we figure out exactly where it needs to be," Stewart said. "To me, I feel the risk is worth the reward if you're giving the fans something that they feel like is exclusive to them and they can't get anywhere else."

Stewart doesn't mind being the target of jokes, either. Harvick sets him up for one when asking the name of the show.

"Tony Stewart Live," Stewart said.

Replied Harvick, "I was just making sure it wasn't 'Dumb and Dumber.' "

Stewart also doesn't mind ticking off a fellow driver if the situation calls for it. In fact, he expects to.

"No, they tick me off every week," he said.

That's where the show could be most therapeutic. Stewart may use the show to air out his displeasure over something that happens on the track, like last year when an incident in the Daytona 500 led to a heated argument with Kenseth.

"I can't imagine Tom Brady interviewing Peyton Manning after he just whupped him," Pabst said.

Having the show on Tuesday night brings in another element because NASCAR fines typically are announced earlier that day. Stewart, who has been fined all but a couple of years since he moved to Cup in 1999, jokingly promised to sign all of his fine checks on the air.

NASCAR president Mike Helton, who has had a say in all of Stewart's penalties, is the most anticipated guest on Stewart's wish list.

"As many times as I've been backed in a corner in a NASCAR trailer, do not think I won't throw him a curveball," Stewart said. "You might not want to write about it and give him heads up. Just say I'm looking forward to interviewing Mike Helton."

But Stewart's guest list isn't limited to racing. Many celebrities have been targeted and Stewart seems as comfortable interviewing Simmons as he does Johnson and Harvick.

"I heard you're doing a video 'Sweatin' to the NASCAR Drivers,' " Simmons said to draw a reaction out of Stewart, who has lost 19 pounds over the past month.

Said Stewart: "I'm getting fit. I've cut back from two Big Macs at lunch to one Big Mac and fries."

There were so many one-liners in the premier that Stewart and Yocum didn't get to half of the topics on their list. They expect that to be the norm.

And there is a long list, mostly compiled by Yocum with flow charts and graphics, that drive Stewart crazy.

"I show up and he's got it all on the computer what we're going to talk about," Stewart said. "I said, 'Is this 'Matt Yocum Live' or 'Tony Stewart Live?' "

No doubt about it, it is Stewart's show. And he's ready to take it wherever Pabst tells him, from his home in Columbus, Ind., to the rooftop of a building across the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago to trackside at Eldora Speedway.

There'll be prizes, too, although those are not the norm.

"We spent most of our budget on hair products for Yocum," Stewart said. "So we're just going to give listeners something from my house each week."

Fans seemed to like the premiere, clogging the phone lines before the call-in number was given out.

The first caller, Ray from California, told how he has grown to be a Stewart fan despite his allegiance to Jeff Gordon.

"Don't worry," Stewart said. "We've got another hour and 15 minutes to screw up and tick somebody off."

And in less than a month, Yocum reminded, they'll be able to screw up every Tuesday night.

"I just hope," Stewart said, "we still have a job."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.