Stewart 'rushing' to race Fontana 400

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Tony Stewart defining 'rush' in southern California

KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (March 20, 2013) – Multiple-meaning words – terms that can have different meanings depending on how they are used in a sentence – can be tricky for students of the English language. “Light,” “crash,” and “oil” are just a few that appear on a very long list of words that can be used as verbs, nouns and even adjectives depending upon the context and conjugation.

Take the word “rush”. While it is typically used in reference to the notions of haste or urgency, rush can be used as a verb, adjective or noun. The word commonly appears in the English language when referencing heavy traffic patterns such as the morning or evening rush hours. As a verb, it appears when explaining that someone has to hurry to an intended designation. The ways in which the word is used as a noun are numerous, from its appearance in historical anecdotes about the California Gold Rush to the “rush” that is achieved through a surge of adrenaline.

This weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Tony Stewart intends to make popular yet another form of the word “rush,” and that is its existence as a proper noun.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Rush Truck Centers makes its sponsorship debut during this weekend’s Auto Club 400 where the premier solutions provider to the commercial vehicle industry will serve as the primary sponsor for the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team. It’s the first of three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in which Stewart will carry the colors of Rush Truck Centers, and while it marks their first time competing in the capacity of primary sponsor for the No. 14 team, Rush Truck Centers is far removed from playing the role of a rookie.

A subsidiary of Rush Enterprises, Inc., Rush Truck Centers is the United States’ largest network of commercial vehicle dealerships, representing industry-leading truck and bus manufacturers. With its vehicle centers strategically located in high-traffic areas or near major highways in 15 different states, Rush Truck Centers operate as one-stop centers offering an integrated approach to the needs of its customers. The company has been a partner to SHR since 2010, playing an integral role in getting the team’s racecars to and from the track.

Rush Truck Centers’ venture into primary sponsorship couldn’t have come at a better time, as Stewart is the defending winner of the Auto Club 400.

One year ago, Stewart drove to his second career win at Fontana in the rain-shortened race. Although the race was not run to its scheduled distance, the fact that Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet was fast couldn’t be negated. The three-time Sprint Cup champion started the race from ninth place and quickly charged to the front of the field, taking the lead for the first time on lap 85. He would eventually be credited with a total of 42 laps led, including the final 22 around the 2-mile oval.

Preceding last year’s victory was a win in the fall of 2010 at Fontana, an event Stewart won from the 22nd starting spot.

In addition to those wins, Stewart has scored six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at Auto Club Speedway. And while he earned an impressive fourth-place finish in his very first start at the track in 1999, it’s since the inception of SHR that Stewart’s stats have soared. Since 2009, Stewart’s poorest Auto Club result is the 13th-place finish he scored during the track’s lone event in 2011. In the six races since 2009, Stewart has failed to lead a lap in only one race, which was in February 2010 when he finished ninth.

After a disappointing outing last weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where an early-race crash led to a 31st-place finish and a 24th-place point standing, a trip to Southern California may be just what Stewart and Co. need to get its season on track. While not yet feeling the rush to reclaim his rightful spot among the top-10 in points, Stewart knows the kind of rush a win at Fontana would provide for him and his No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 race team.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

What stands out about last year’s win, other than it being shortened by rain?

“It really boiled down to Denny Hamlin and myself. We were, at different times, the fastest cars on the track, but I was really happy with my car. We didn’t have to adjust very much with it and I felt like we had a car that had a lot of adjustability to it later in the day. Really from the drop of the green flag through the course of the race, and to the part where we actually got rain, we had a dominant car. Denny had spots where he was the fastest and I think he had room to gain to close that ground. They were definitely en route to do that when the rain came, but I think it was really going to be down to the two of us for the rest of the day, regardless of the weather.”

Fontana is a track with multiple racing grooves which places the race a little more in the driver’s hands. Do you appreciate that, and how soon do you start moving around the track testing the other grooves?

“It’s nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you’re not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day. As far as when to start trying the different grooves, really from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out because what works for one part of the race may not work at another point. Basically, it’s as soon as you feel like you’re not where you need to be. If you feel like you’re slower than the pace you need to be running, you’re going to move up the racetrack and find a place that helps balance your racecar.”

You have a new primary sponsor this weekend in Rush Truck Centers. How did it come about?

“We’ve been doing business with Rush Truck Centers for years. It’s an established relationship that will now have a much higher profile thanks to their decision to become a primary sponsor with our team. Rush Truck Centers keeps our trucks and transporters in great condition, and you could argue those are the most important parts of our race team. Without them, our cars never get to the racetrack. The employees of Rush Truck Centers are as detail-oriented as we are, and they play a critical role in the success of our race team.”

Everyone wants to keep talking about the sixth-generation (Gen-6) car and where everyone is with it. We know there is still some time before teams will have it all figured out, but as things stand today, where is the car as far as you’re concerned as a driver and owner?

“I don’t know where everyone wants it to be. That’s the biggest thing. It still boils down to the fact that it’s a racecar and I think there’s way too much pressure as far as expectations of what it’s supposed to be. Nobody has told me where it’s actually supposed to be. It’s a car, and this is a car that doesn’t come with an instruction manual. It’s a constant work in progress. We’re all going to get smarter about the cars. As drivers, we’re going to learn things about what we can and can’t do and what scenarios to put ourselves in. Now that NASCAR has given us the rules, what the templates are going to be, Goodyear can now go and make adjustments. Everyone is going to do their part, but I think what’s been understated is how good this car has been right out of the box. It’s a nice car. It’s a well-balanced car. It may not be exactly where everyone thinks it’s supposed to be. Apparently there are people that are not content with where it’s at, but for the few races we’ve had, I think it’s been an overwhelming success. Coming out of the box, a new racecar doesn’t normally happen this flawlessly.”

How much of a challenge has the Gen-6 car been as an owner as opposed to a driver?

“The flawless part over the winter was not there. It was a lot of work through the offseason and a lot of it was because NASCAR was still doing their part in tweaking and figuring out exactly what the package was going to be. I think that was a little more of a process than what they wanted and it really put a lot of the teams in a bind trying to get everything prepared. We’re still playing catch up but, at the same time, it’s been a tool for us as car owners being able to get in the shop and seeing what these guys have done with the cars. It’s been an evaluation of where our program is, and of the people that we have – seeing how they’ve been able to handle a huge hurdle and adversity to produce great racecars like we had at Daytona. So even though it’s been a little bit of a hassle to get everything done, I think it’s been a way, as an owner, to evaluate your program.”

Your team was on a bit of a streak at this point last year, coming off the 2011 championship and with the wins at Las Vegas and Fontana. Things changed during the second half of the year. Where is the team now versus where it was a year ago?

“I think a lot of it is hard to say for sure because of the variable of the car and where we’re at in the learning process versus the other teams. I think that always ends up being the benchmark of how you grade yourself. It isn’t necessarily with yourself, but how you stack up to the rest of the teams you’re competing against. Attitude-wise and in terms of comfort level, I feel like we’re ahead of last year with Steve (Addington, crew chief) now and having Greg Zipadelli on board as our competition director. I feel like Ryan (Newman, teammate and driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet) is happy with Matt Borland being his crew chief now, and that’s a comfort level we didn’t see at the end of last year. Then with Danica Patrick (teammate and driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) and Tony Gibson (Patrick’s crew chief) – I think everybody is real content and happy with production in the shop. With Hedrick Motorsports engines, we don’t have to worry about that element each week because they’re right where they need to be each week. That’s a huge load off our shoulders as an organization. I guess I give ourselves a better grade than where we were this time last year because everyone is working together a lot better and they’re a lot more comfortable with each other.”

You mentioned Danica. With all due respect to the Gen-6 car, it doesn’t hold a candle to her when it comes to hype. As an owner, how do you think she has handled everything from her performance at Daytona to the start of the season?

Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

“I’ve seen rookies come into an organization where they just weren’t made to feel a part of a team with the established veterans that are already there. I think that’s where having guys like Ryan (Newman) and myself has been an asset to her. With her and Ryan, it’s like watching a brother and sister around each other and I feel like I’m the third wheel. They’ll get into conversation that I actually get uncomfortable with and I’m like, ‘Alright, you guys go ahead and talk about this, I’m leaving.’ That’s hard to do with me, so she fits in really well with us as a group. She’s done a great job of making everybody feel comfortable. A lot of the guys she’s working with in the shop want to treat her with respect and how she wants to be treated, but I think she’s pretty much blown everybody away with her attitude and how she jokes around like she’s one of the guys. It’s relaxed everybody and our competition meetings are very entertaining with her and Ryan and myself. I think having that kind of atmosphere is a nice scenario for her to be in as a rookie. Then with all of the circus-type stuff surrounding what she’s going through personally, and then going through everything at Daytona and being able to focus when it came time to get in the car and leave all of the tabloid stuff on the shelf when it was time to go race – I think she handled that better than probably the rest of us would’ve handled it.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Preview
Tags 400, auto club, cup series, fontana, nascar, tony stewart

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