Fontana II: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Building Points and Building the Resume in Fontana KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 7, 2009) -- Tony Stewart enters Sunday's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., looking for two simple things:...

TONY STEWART

Building Points and Building the Resume in Fontana

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 7, 2009) -- Tony Stewart enters Sunday's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., looking for two simple things: more championship points and a slightly longer resume.

Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), accomplished both last week at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City as he received the most points of any driver (190) following his victory in the Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods.

The win moved Stewart into fourth-place in the Chase for the Championship with just seven races remaining before a champion is crowned following the season finale Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The two-time Sprint Cup champion is just 67 points behind series leader Mark Martin.

And as far as resume building went, it was the 37th Sprint Cup victory of Stewart's career, his fourth of the season and his second at Kansas, as he also won at the 1.5-mile oval in 2006. His four wins so far this season are the most for Stewart since he won five races in 2006 while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

In addition, Stewart is now tied with 1970 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Isaac for 18th on the all-time victory list in NASCAR's top division.

Cutting Martin's point advantage while adding to his own list of career highlights is what Stewart has in mind this weekend at the 2-mile D-shaped oval in Southern California. Stewart would love nothing more than to add as many points as possible to his total of 5,484 markers and inch closer, if not pass Martin outright, as well as three-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson and former Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who are second and third, respectively, in the standings. Stewart is just 16 points behind Montoya and 49 points back of Johnson.

A win at Fontana would not only reward Stewart with plenty of points, it would also enhance his already impressive resume. Auto Club Speedway is one of only three tracks, along with Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where Stewart has yet to find victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series.

He has finished in the top-10 in half of his 16 starts at Fontana and has a pair of fourth-place finishes (1999 and 2001). Stewart also won a NASCAR Nationwide Series event at the track in February 2008.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You had a 10-race stretch during the summer where you finished in the top-10 in every race and scored three wins, two runner-up and eight top-five finishes. Following that you had a five race stretch where you failed to finish in the top-10, but finished outside of the top-20 only once. Now you've finished ninth at Dover and won at Kansas. Can you talk about your mindset and how you were able to reverse the misfortunes of the late summer?

"They weren't days that we wanted, but at the end of the day, no matter what the circumstance that got us behind, we were able to rebound from it. We weren't able to get all the way up to where we wanted, but we were able to make gains on it at the end and salvage a better finish than where we were. Whatever the scenarios were, we were able to overcome part of it. Obviously the outcomes weren't what we wanted, but the fact is, it just shows this team doesn't have any quit in them, and that's what it's going to take to get back on top."

Entering Kansas there were only three drivers within 106 points of Martin, now there are six drivers. How important is that, and that you're also one of the guys that made up a sizable amount of points?

"It depends on who you're talking to. It's not important to me that there's that many guys there. I want to be within 10 points of it, obviously. But it shows how competitive this Chase is. Guys that were up front there had average days, and a lot of guys closed on them. It just shows that you're going to have to be on for 10 weeks to win this thing, and if you have a bad day, there's going to be guys that are going to capitalize on it."

What are your thoughts heading into Fontana?

"Darian (Grubb, crew chief) and I were still just learning each other going into California in the spring. So going around this time, we obviously know each other better. We've had time to make mistakes and make decisions that worked for me, and we've learned the feel that I like together, and that's something that will definitely help us for this week. I'm anticipating California a lot more this time than in the spring."

When you came to California in the spring, it was only your second race working with Grubb after 10 years with Greg Zipadelli at Joe Gibbs Racing. Are you as comfortable with Grubb now as you were then with Zipadelli?

"Honestly, when we started this thing in the spring, there were times when I was sitting in the car and I told him what my balance was, and he told me what we were going to change, and I was like, 'Wow, is that the right way to go?' I told him that, too. It's just learning each other. It's learning a new package. It was a big learning curve for me to learn a new chassis. Darian obviously knows what these cars like and what this chassis package likes. It's just a matter of tailoring it to what I like feel-wise in the car. There were times the first couple of races where I didn't necessarily understand why we were doing something. But when you go out there and it responds positively to those changes, you gain that confidence right away. I have the same confidence in Darian that I had in Zippy for 10 years. It doesn't take long, and the great thing is I've been really blessed and lucky over the last 11 years to have two really good crew chiefs that I can talk to about anything and that I've connected with."

DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You had a 10-race stretch during the summer where you finished in the top-10 in every race and scored three wins, two runner-up and eight top-five finishes. Following that you had a five race stretch where you failed to finish in the top-10, but finished outside of the top-20 only once. Now you've finished ninth at Dover and won at Kansas. Can you talk about your mindset and how you were able to reverse the misfortunes of the late summer?

"We still approach every race the same. We've had a few races in the last few weeks that just weren't up to the standards that we had set, but we got the best out of every situation and got the best finish we possibly could. By doing that, we know we're going to keep setting the tone. We're going for wins every week. We know we have to win to be able to win the Chase, and last Sunday was just a good example of how hard you have to fight and how close the competition is between all these guys. We swapped the lead tons of times Sunday between all the actual competitors for the championship. You've got to be able to compete against those guys and race them and also race your race and just go for the wins. That's the only way you're going to be able to make up any ground.

"Those first two weeks of the Chase, the last two performances we had, they weren't what we wanted, but it's what our team needed to do. We came back from 36th to ninth at Dover, and we came back from 33rd to 14th at Loudon in very short amounts of time. We were able to salvage what we could out of those races, and we actually became a stronger team and fixed some problems and were working a little harder. We know what details we're missing now to become a strong championship-contending team. You have to take a positive out of every week. If you don't, you're never going to be moving forward. If you just take negatives, all you're going to be doing is beating yourself down."

What are your thoughts heading into Fontana?

"We're really looking forward to it. We've got some good cars. We made a lot of changes to our entire fleet over the last few months trying to get things more acclimated to what Tony needs in a racecar. We finished eighth there in the spring in our second race together, so I feel like we learned a lot of lessons through the year. Hopefully, we'll be able to go back and improve on that."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing