TONY STEWART Nothing Is Over Until We Say It Is KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 22, 2010) -- Last Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon -- the first in the 10-race Chase for the Championship -- left Tony...
Nothing Is Over Until We Say It Is
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 22, 2010) -- Last Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon -- the first in the 10-race Chase for the Championship -- left Tony Stewart with a gut-wrenching 24th-place finish after he led three times for 100 laps. With a 1.5-second lead over second-place Clint Bowyer, Stewart had victory in sight, but coming to take the white flag for the final lap, the fuel cell inside his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet ran dry, handing the win to Bowyer.
It was a devastating blow to Stewart and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing, for not only was an elusive Sprint Cup victory snatched away, it drop-kicked Stewart from second in the standings to 11th, 124 points behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin.
Coming into New Hampshire, some drivers felt that one bad race could doom one's Chase chances, and Stewart was one of those drivers.
"You have to capitalize on the tracks you're good at, and you're not going to be able to have bad races," he said. "You're not going to be able to get a mulligan. You're going to have to be good for 10 straight weeks. You don't have that flexibility with this field to have an off night."
While that was a common mindset among the top-12 drivers competing in this year's Chase, Stewart prefaced those remarks with this: "You hate to sound like an idiot by saying you've just got to be better than the other 11 guys, but that's what it's going to come down to."
So, is Stewart out of the running to collect a third Sprint Cup championship to go with the titles he earned in 2002 and 2005? Hardly, for he's been beating the 11 other drivers in the Chase since spring turned to summer. Consider this...
With nine races remaining, anything can happen. In fact, Stewart is intent on emulating the Winston Churchill quote that adorns one of the walls at Stewart-Haas Racing: "I like things to happen; and if they don't happen, I like to make them happen."
Stewart has been making things happen for 12 years in the Sprint Cup Series, as evidenced by his 38 career victories. Tellingly, as far as his Chase chances are concerned, 11 of those 38 victories have come in the last nine races of the season. In fact, Stewart has won a Sprint Cup race at every venue in the Chase with the exception of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., yet even there he has a victory -- the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Feb. 25, 2008.
So, as this year's Chase rolls into round two at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, write off Stewart at your own peril. If you don't believe the statistics, believe the man, for this is what Stewart had to say moments after his heart-breaking loss at New Hampshire: "There is so much that can happen in nine races. I promise you this: This Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy team is not going to give up. We'll do the best we can and give it our best shot."
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
In 2002, you overcame a 43rd place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 to win the series championship. You were 146 points down after that race, but you ended up taking the point lead with six races to go -- a span of 30 races. Right now you're down by 124 points with only nine races left. Can you make a comeback with so few races remaining?
"Obviously, what happened at New Hampshire didn't help us any, but it didn't kill us either. Lots of things can happen between now and Homestead. This team has never quit on anything and we're not going to start now. We're going into these last nine races with absolutely nothing to lose. There's no pressure, really. Every week when we unload at the track, we'll be looking for nothing else but a win."
What were some of the things you learned from being in the Chase in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009 that you'll apply this year?
"My approach to the Chase is the same way it's been any other time I've been in a point race -- you go out there, you lead laps, you try to win races and the points take care of itself. If we don't win, then we try to get second. If we can't get second, then we try to get third. The higher you finish, the more points you get. It's a pretty simple theory. You just go out and finish as high as you can each week and let the points fall where they may. I know that sounds like a simple formula, but the reason we got to this point is by following that theory. Every week we go out and we try to lead laps and we try to win races. That's what got us here. There's no reason to change that. Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel."
Do you see more aggressive driving during the Chase?
"Well, you still have 43 drivers who want to win races. The guys who are outside of that top-12, they still have sponsors to impress, programs to get on track, and for some, jobs to earn. Other guys just have something to prove. Guys aren't going to be content to just sit there and ride the rest of the season out. They're going to want to prove to everybody that they belong in this series. But I don't think there's more or less aggressiveness on the racetrack. It's always been aggressive."
Dover is a pretty unique track being that it's a high-banked, 1-mile concrete oval. How do you approach it?
"Dover is a track that is kind of a two-phase deal. It's easy to get your car too tight in the center (of the corner) trying to get it to drive up off the corner nice, and it seems like if you get it to rotate through the corner, then it's way loose off. Those are the two things that you really battle there. It's the sacrifice of where do you want to be a little bit off to accomplish having a balanced car."
Do you have to alter your driving style when you race on concrete?
"I don't think you drive it any differently. But because it is concrete, the track has a lot more bumps than an asphalt track would. There are seams in Dover's surface and places where they've cut the concrete for expansion. Those sections shift and change, and every year when you go there, the bumps are a little bit different than they were the year before. Dover is a track that's constantly changing. But it's one of those places where you really can't change your driving style. You still have to do the same things you always do. It's just a matter of finding the package that's right for that racetrack. But other than that, you go through the same set of scenarios and challenges you would on any asphalt track -- either the car is going to be tight or it's going to be loose."
Is Dover the type of racetrack where a driver can make up for a racecar that isn't handling well?
"To a certain extent, yes. With the way the cars slide around on the racetrack late in the day, there are times when a driver can make up for what the car won't do. They can move around on the racetrack and help themselves out by finding a faster groove."