TONY STEWART Who Needs a Sprint Cup Title When You Have a Sprint Car Title? KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Nov. 17, 2010) -- The Sprint Cup title may be out of reach, but for the second straight year, a Sprint Car title is in Tony Stewart's hands. The...
Who Needs a Sprint Cup Title When You Have a Sprint Car Title?
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Nov. 17, 2010) -- The Sprint Cup title may be out of reach, but for the second straight year, a Sprint Car title is in Tony Stewart's hands.
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is in only his second year as a driver/owner in NASCAR's elite series. But as a 10-year open-wheel owner in USAC and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, Stewart has scored 13th championships, the most recent of which came last Saturday night when driver Levi Jones captured the USAC National Sprint Car Series title for the second straight year.
It was the second owner's title for Stewart in 2010, as Jones also delivered the USAC Silver Crown Series title on Oct. 16 for Stewart's Brownsburg, Ind.-based Tony Stewart Racing (TSR). That was Stewart's fifth Silver Crown owner's championship, making him the series' winningest owner. The two USAC titles earned this year give Stewart 10 total USAC championships, with his three other crowns coming in the rough-and-tumble World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series (2001 with Danny Lasoski and 2008-2009 with Donny Schatz).
Yet one more title might be in the cards for Stewart the car owner. His two USAC drivers -- Jones and Bryan Clauson -- are currently 1-2 in the inaugural USAC National Driver's Championship, separated by just five points with only two races remaining. Whoever tops the other Nov. 20 in the USAC National Midget Car Series race at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway and Nov. 25 in the 70th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) will win the National Driver's Championship, as no other driver remains in contention to win.
What does it mean? Everything for aspiring young drivers like Jones and Clauson. The winner gets $40,000 and a $300,000 Firestone Indy Lights scholarship, which translates to a ride for all six oval track races in 2011, including the Freedom 100 in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Just as Stewart helped advance the careers of J.J. Yeley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Josh Wise, it appears he's set to do the same with Jones and Clauson. Either way, Stewart the owner is a winner.
Stewart the driver can also be a winner this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. While the Sprint Cup title is a three-way battle between Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, there will be a 43-car battle for the win in Sunday's Ford 400.
Expect Stewart to be involved in the latter. After all, in 11 career starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Stewart has two wins, three top-fives, five top-10s and has led 384 laps, the most of all active Sprint Cup drivers. He also has staying power at Homestead, for of the 2,942 laps available, Stewart has failed to complete only three of them. And when it comes to experience at the South Florida track, Stewart is again in rare company, for he's one of just five drivers who have competed in every Sprint Cup race at Homestead, the others being Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Elliott Sadler.
Already on a high note as a car owner in USAC, Stewart aims to end his NASCAR season on a high note in the finale at Homestead.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Another year and another car owner championship for Tony Stewart Racing. Talk about that .
"The USAC Sprint Car Series is one of the most competitive divisions in all of racing, and this championship says a lot about the TSR operation. Levi is a true champion and I'm glad that he was able to win his fourth championship as part of TSR. He's really matured as a championship-caliber driver, and for him and Bryan Clausen to be neck-and-neck for the USAC National Drivers Championship speaks to their hard work and the hard work of everyone at TSR.
"USAC has a really great program where the national champion gets to run in the Indy Lights Series. I think we finally have that ladder system back to where USAC guys can work their way to a ride at Indy. And if TSR can play a role in that, well, that's what the goal of our team has been ever since we formed it back in 2001 -- to give guys a shot to make a name for themselves at the grassroots level and then move up to the next series and whatever opportunities that come with it."
What is your mindset leading into Homestead ?
"We're just going out there to try and win the race. That's all we can do. We're not in a championship battle, but we're still in a battle for points. We still have to go out and do the best we can to get as many points as we can."
Is it difficult when you're not in a championship battle to keep your focus through the end of the season?
"Yeah, because all everybody wants to do is talk about the guys that are in it, and all we want to do is worry about the stuff that we're doing that didn't get us in it and trying to make our cars better. That is the stuff we are trying to work on and to concentrate on our program and not worry about what everybody else is doing. And it is hard. You want to be in the middle of it and you want to be one of those guys that are there, but at the same time when it doesn't work out, you have to sit there and try to figure out why you didn't get yourself in that situation. They're still trying to fight for this year, but were already fighting for next year."
Knowing the pressure that comes with being in championship contention entering Homestead, will you enjoy the last race of the season simply because there is no pressure?
"Trust me, I'd much rather have the pressure of being the point leader, or even remotely close to the point leader. But being where we are does take a little bit of that edge off. Still, I'd much rather be right there in the middle of the championship knowing that we've got a shot of winning it. Pressure is a part of this business, and we're all used to it by now."
When you won the second of your two championships in 2005, what did you do the week leading into the last race of the season at Homestead when the title was on the line?
"I went home. My favorite thing to do is to go home and be around my friends and my property. I did that until I absolutely had to leave to go to Florida. The more relaxed you are going into this weekend, the better off you'll be."
Were you better prepared to clinch the championship in 2005 at Homestead because of your experience when you ran for your first championship in 2002?
"We were so busy the first time, because we were never in that position. Granted, there wasn't a Chase then. There were only about three or four of us at that time that were even a factor. Then when the Chase came around, obviously, it was a little different deal, because there were still four or five of us mathematically eligible for it. It's just one of those situations where what we learned from previous championships in IndyCar and USAC and all of these other things, you can mentally drain yourself before you even get to that point. The way to combat that is to go out and do your favorite things and go have fun and enjoy the time that you have home before you have to go."
A lot was made about what kind of champion you would be when you won your first championship in 2002. You were more polarizing then, sometimes getting more boos than cheers at driver introductions. Over the years, it was about 50/50 boos and cheers and now it's mostly cheers. Why do you think that's the case?
"Because I've stayed true to who I am, and I am honest and say what is on my mind, and I don't take crap from anybody and have just always stayed who I am. I've never changed who I was and have never changed my views on things to be popular. I've just stayed the course and I think people respect that."
Have your 12 years of Sprint Cup experience allowed you to know when to push for position and when to settle for what you have?
"I'm not sure when I actually realized all that. I think it's just common sense to know that if you make a mistake and don't finish, it's worse than losing one or two spots because you just don't have the car that's going to get it done that day. It's just something that's always made sense to us. If you wreck the car trying to maintain a spot or get a spot that you think you need, it's risk versus reward. The risk outweighs the reward at that point. A lot of times, it's just easier to let one spot go if you have to, and either wait for the next pit stop or realize that's just all we have for that day."
Explain a lap around Homestead.
"You go off into turn one, and when you get into the banking, you lift. If your car is good, you can go and not use any brake, or very, very little brake. You stay one lane off the bottom, past the transition -- it's a little less banking on the lower level toward the apron -- so you stay one level above that. As soon as your car settles in you can really just mash right back in the gas and just ride that second level around down onto the backstretch. And then you do exactly the same thing going into turn three. A lot of times in turn three, because of the wind direction there, you can actually go into the corner a lot harder and a lot further, actually turning into the corner before you get off the gas. And it's the same thing, once that car settles in, you get on the gas and ride it around to the frontstretch. It's a pretty smooth racetrack."
Last year, you headed to Australia for a month during the off-season. You're going to do it again this off-season. Why?
"It's just about going over there and relaxing. It's summer over there and I don't have to sit around in the winter and not be able to be outside, and I get to race and visit a real beautiful area. It's the best of all worlds. I'm going over for a long period of time and I'm only running on the track five days. I'm doing something that is totally different. It's something that I want to do and it's not like I feel like I have to go do it, so it's definitely what I want to do."