Loudon: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Wicked Good Comin' Intah New Hampsha KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 24, 2009) -- When Tony Stewart decided to become a driver/owner in 2009, there were those who might as well have said, "You can't get there from here," in regard to him ...

TONY STEWART
Wicked Good Comin' Intah New Hampsha

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 24, 2009) -- When Tony Stewart decided to become a driver/owner in 2009, there were those who might as well have said, "You can't get there from here," in regard to him competing for a third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. After all, driving in NASCAR's elite series is hard enough, never mind while simultaneously wearing the hat of team owner.

Yet here he is, first in the championship point standings with a win, four second-place finishes, eight top-fives and a series-high 12 top-10s 16 races into the 36-race Sprint Cup season. Needless to say, Stewart is wicked good coming into the series' next stop -- New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, site of Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

How good? The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing has finished outside of the top-10 just four times this season, and of those finishes, only one was outside the top-25 -- a 26th-place effort in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Stewart took the point lead four races ago at Dover (Del.) International Speedway after finishing second. The very next week at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, he scored his first win of the season and the 34th of his career. A seventh-place effort at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn followed before Stewart again finished second last Sunday at the Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif.

His recent success, along with his season-long body of work, have given Stewart the kind of momentum that makes for a championship effort, as his series-best finishing average of 8.4 and 84-point lead over nearest pursuer Jeff Gordon attest.

And now Stewart rolls into New Hampshire, the Granite State track where he's proven to be rock solid.

In 20 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.058-mile oval, the Columbus, Ind.-native has two wins (July 2000 and July 2005), one pole (September 2005), seven top-threes, 10 top-fives, 12 top-10s and has led a total of 936 laps, second only to Gordon's total of 1,141 laps led, but with eight fewer starts than Gordon. And to top it all off, Stewart has two wins outside of Sprint Cup at New Hampshire -- a NASCAR Nationwide Series triumph in 2008 and an IRL IndyCar Series victory in 1998.

Stewart might've had one more New Hampshire trophy had last year's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 not been shortened 17 laps because of rain. Stewart led twice for a race-high 132 laps, but was caught outside the top-10 as other teams gambled that they'd have enough fuel to go the distance if rain ended the race prematurely. Instead of spraying champagne in an already waterlogged victory lane, Stewart had to settle for 13th.

But a year later, that rain has been replaced with the reign of Stewart, as he's proven to be dangerously competitive and equally consistent -- the main ingredients of which a championship is made.

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

Ten more races before the Chase for the Championship begins. You're leading the points now and you're solidly in the 12-driver Chase, but how do you balance maintaining your point standing while also going for wins, as each win is worth 10 bonus points to start the Chase?

"I think we're in a situation now where we can take a couple of extra chances if we feel like we might be able to get another win and pick up those 10 bonus points going into the fall. It's definitely a situation we're able to utilize because of where we are in the point standings. It really doesn't matter where you are as long as you're locked into the top-12, but those bonus points are going to be important. So, if you have to go from first to sixth in the point standings because you're taking chances to gain those extra 10 bonus points, it's really not a penalty."

You're leading the points and you have two wins -- one in the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., and the other at Pocono. What's been the best part of seeing the success at Stewart-Haas Racing?

"The best part, definitely, has been watching the guys when we won the All-Star race at Charlotte -- seeing guys that have never been to victory lane before. Watching the expression on those guys' faces and the celebration in victory lane, that's definitely been the best part. It's been fun. It's been a fun process of watching different guys come from different organizations and working together. Everybody was kind of in a pattern of how they did things, and it was a matter of getting everybody in a new pattern of, 'This is how we're going to do it.' It was an adjustment for these guys, but now they're in the routine week in and week out and its fun just to watch these guys have fun. We have a really good group of guys that I'm really proud of."

Explain a lap around New Hampshire.

"It's a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you've got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too, so it's hard to get up off the corners. Then you've got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it's hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again."

So, is a fast lap all about throttle control?

"No, not necessarily. A lot of times when you get in the gas, you're able to stay in the gas. It's just a matter of having a good enough handling car to where you can get into the corner, roll through the center, and then get in the gas and stay in the gas when you do get back in the throttle."

Is New Hampshire a good place to race?

"Obviously, I like it because I've had success there. But at the same time, it's a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it's hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you've got a good car, it's always fun to race."

While you've won at New Hampshire, you've also had races where you've struggled. How can one race weekend turn out great and another turn into one you'd rather forget?

"If you miss on something it can be a miserable day. It seems like you don't see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That's what makes a day there miserable when you miss. It's just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front. It's not a situation you cringe at if you have a good driving car."

Because New Hampshire is a difficult racetrack, are some drivers beat before they even make a practice lap because they have a negative outlook about the racetrack?

"It certainly doesn't help if someone has a bad attitude going in there. It kind of puts a strike against you, but I'm not going to say that you're already beat. There are tracks that I've been to that weren't my favorite tracks, but I still found a way to win there. You've just got to stay focused and work hard to find what it takes to be good."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing