Stewart, always the last driver to arrive, was agitated as he scoured the room looking for his teammates.
''Can we get some more people in here?'' he said to no one in particular. ''I thought we were here to race.''
It's no secret that NASCAR and all its pomp and circumstance have always been the necessary evil in Stewart's storied career. NASCAR money pays his bills, has afforded him a lifestyle he never imagined, allowed him to collect toys such as ownership of race tracks and a sprint car series.
But NASCAR has never been his love.
It's always been his job.
The sideshow that accompanies the 38 races a year? A nuisance.
So it should be no surprise that Stewart is scheduled Wednesday to announce his retirement from Sprint Cup racing at the end of the 2016 season. He will detail his decision to get out of the car, according to a person familiar with Stewart's plans who spoke on condition of anonymity because the three-time NASCAR champion has not publicly discussed his retirement.
Stewart's die-hard fans don't want to believe the news. They've always assumed their driver, a modern-day A.J. Foyt, would race deep into his 50s and slowly scale back his schedule.
He's confided during a handful of interviews with The Associated Press over the past 12 months that his passion is gone. The euphoria from a strong finish - and really, strong finishes are all he's shooting for right now, wins are not presently attainable - has worn off by the time he gets to his airplane after a race.
His personal struggles took a toll on him. His on-track struggles have sapped his confidence and stripped him of that feeling of invincibility he had in more than three decades of racing cars. Stewart can't get a feel for NASCAR's current rules package, and at times it seems like he's accepted that he's just not competitive anymore.
So why not stick to the exit plan and spend his time doing all the things around racing that still give him a charge? Well, leaving means filling his seat at Stewart-Haas Racing and Stewart desperately wanted Kyle Larson for the job.
Watching him putter around the track, fighting to stay on the lead lap, trying hard to squeak out a top-15 finish - that's not the way anyone wants to see Stewart go out.