June 10, 2015

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) Dressed in a Bass Pro T-shirt and cap, Tony Stewart was all set to take his turn as a commercial fisherman.

Stewart had had his fun teaching kids how to catch and release trout from a pond. Now it was time to hook a new generation on the fun of fishing by filming a few promotional spots for his sponsors. An ace endorser - his biggest whopper comes not from exaggerated tales of catching the big one, but hawking burgers for a fast-food chain - Stewart needed only a few minutes to rehearse before it was time for action.

Stewart nailed his lines for a campaign promoting youth fishing days.

''Man, how does he do it! First take every time,'' Stewart said.

He hit all his marks again when he's asked to read a reworked script.

''Man, this guy's a natural,'' he said to laughter. ''A natural!''

But the third promo trips him up: ''The race track and somewhere near ... blah, blah, blah, blah,'' he says, temporarily tongue tied.

When he finished the next take without a blunder, Stewart was ready to accept an acting award.

''Three out of four right now. That puts you in the Hall of Fame,'' he said.

Stewart is a lock for NASCAR's Hall of Fame, making his name as one of the most proficient drivers in racing, winning in every kind of series, from sprint cars to open wheel to three championships in the Sprint Cup Series.

But the last two seasons have been filled with heartache and hardship on and off the track for Stewart. While no one would ever count out Stewart from winning a race behind the wheel of the No. 14 14, he's no longer a regular threat to find victory lane.

Stewart, though, still knows how to take the pole.

Known for his gruff temperament, Stewart was all smiles at a fishing clinic for a group of kids last weekend at Pocono Raceway. Stewart was the surprise instructor for large group of 14 and under enthusiasts, and he gave a few lessons on how to hold a fishing rod and how to reel in trout.

''Are you catching anything?'' he asked a little girl.

She shrugged and hardly seemed to know or care her tutor was one of NASCAR's greats.

That was just the way Stewart liked it.

''It was what I wanted it to be,'' Stewart said. ''I wanted the kids to be more engrossed in the fishing than worrying about me being there behind them. Just to see them be excited about fishing, having an opportunity to catch a trout like that, that's a pretty big deal.''

Stewart untangled lines for the novices and attached lures for his young charges.

''Look at that one,'' Stewart yelled as a loose trout flopped on the asphalt, sending kids scrambling. Stewart scooped the fish with his bare hands and tossed it in the pond.

The 44-year-old Stewart started fishing in the 1990s in his old Indy Racing League days with a former crew member. They'd take their gear and tackle on the road with them and fish almost every night.

His Indiana property has an 8 1/2-acre lake stocked with fish.

''When we have people over, we've got everything from beginner rods to rods we'd use on the tour,'' Stewart said. ''If there are people fishing for the first time, we know what kind of fish to take them to fish. That makes it easy for them, gives them an opportunity to have a good time.''

Stewart wouldn't mind throwing back most of his finishes this season, scoring just one top 10 and extending his winless streak to two years. Stewart last won a Cup race on June 2, 2013, at Dover International Speedway. He finished 21st last weekend at Pocono.

Stewart is buried at 27th in the standings. His fellow Stewart-Haas Racing teammates have all fared better: Danica Patrick is 20th, Kurt Busch has one win and is 12th, and reigning series champion Kevin Harvick again leads the points standings.

For a short time, Stewart could forget about his car and focus on kids. About the only surprise at the promotional event was that Stewart hadn't used the Periscope live streaming video app to catch all the action.

''I've just been experimenting, playing with it,'' he said. ''I'm having fun with it.''

Stewart would love to stream a victory bash - if only he can catch a break, instead of a fish.

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