TONY STEWART Introducing Your Defending Race Winner KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 3, 2010) - Tony Stewart returns to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway as the defending winner of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500. The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot ...
Introducing Your Defending Race Winner
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 3, 2010) - Tony Stewart returns to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway as the defending winner of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500. The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series won last year's June visit to the venerable and quirky 2.5-mile triangle, where he led twice for 39 laps - including the final 37 - to take his first point-paying win as a driver/owner and the first for a driver/owner since Sept. 27, 1998 when Ricky Rudd won at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway - a span of 375 races.
It was a monumental win, not just in terms of numbers, but also because it stamped Stewart's foray into team ownership with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as a success. It was his 34th career Sprint Cup win, but first with SHR after leaving the comfy confines of Joe Gibbs Racing, where the two-time Sprint Cup champion spent his first 12 years as a NASCAR driver.
That it came at Pocono wasn't really a surprise, for Stewart had proven quick at the Tricky Triangle since first turning a wheel on the track's infield road course in 1986, where at age 15 Stewart raced a go-kart as a member of the World Karting Association. Upon returning to Pocono in a 3,400-pound stock car in June 1999 as a Sprint Cup rookie, he promptly finished sixth and then followed it up with a fourth-place run when the series returned to the Keystone State in July.
Stewart knocked down his first Pocono pole in July 2000 and his first Pocono win in June 2003. In 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono, Stewart has seven top-fives and 16 top-10s. And in eight of his last nine Pocono races, Stewart has finished 10th or better, an impressive achievement considering that 500 miles at Pocono provides a daunting test of man and machine, for races easily nudge the four-hour mark.
Yet there Stewart is after running 200 laps at nearly 200 mph no worse for wear. He simply wipes his brow with a strategically placed Old Spice towel, takes a swig of ice-cold Coca-Cola, dons a sponsor hat and a pair of Oakley sunglasses and describes his day at the office. He's cool, even in the dog days of summer, which is now upon the Sprint Cup Series. And as the weather heats up, expect Stewart to heat up at Pocono.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
With all of the wins you've achieved in your racing career, where did your win last June at Pocono rank?
"We don't keep rankings. We keep trophies. They're on a shelf and you scoot one over and slide the next one to it. You love having the opportunity to do that. It's not about rankings. It's just about enjoying the moment. Obviously, special races like the Brickyard 400 and Daytona 500 and Indy 500s are marquee events that mean more, but a win is a win. It's just the personal satisfaction at the moment that you have for it and the appreciation that you have for how hard everybody works to get you in a situation like that."
Your win at Pocono last June came in a fuel mileage race. Can you explain what you did to make sure you had enough fuel to go the distance while many of your competitors did not?
"I've lost a lot more races like that than I've won. It was between Carl (Edwards) and I. We were the strongest two cars at the end of the race and we were able to get the track position we needed. Our guys did a great job of getting us out of the pits in the lead and that gave us the opportunity to make Carl push harder in the beginning to get the lead. Once he went into that fuel conservation mode, we had to follow suit. To be in a situation where your speed is dictated off the guy behind you and not off of what you can do, it's a different style of racing. It's hard. It's just as hard, if not tougher, than trying to run 100 percent."
That win at Pocono was the first point-paying victory for Stewart-Haas Racing. Now that you're going back to the scene of that impressive "first," can you reflect on the impact it made within your organization?
"I knew it was big when we were there in victory lane, obviously. Getting the first one at Charlotte (the non-points Sprint All-Star Race) was a huge accomplishment for the organization, but that first official points win was big, too. The feeling was the same as it was in Charlotte, but it was different because you knew it was a points race. It just meant a lot. It meant so much to a lot of people because it had been a long road to get this organization to where it could win races. Everybody put a lot of hard work into getting this program where it's at, so it was nice to get to victory lane for a points race."
Was winning any different as an owner?
"Does it matter? As long as you're enjoying it, you're enjoying it. The one part that was a little different than it had ever been was when we won the All-Star Race. Afterward, all I cared about was getting back and seeing my guys. I didn't really even realize it until after we finished third in the Shootout at Daytona in February. It was the first event we ran and couple of the guys came up and were high-fiving each other and said, 'Hey, that is the best finish we've ever had.' It was like, 'You guys have never run in the top-three in a Cup race^a ever?' That was what was so exciting about the All-Star Race - knowing that there is a group of guys in this organization that have been there from day one, guys on my team, guys on Ryan's (Newman, teammate) team, that had never been to victory lane. That, from a driver and owner standpoint, is just cool, that you were part of getting them their first win and being there to celebrate with them."
Explain a lap around Pocono.
"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three - you drive it in kind of deep and then try to float the car through the corner. You go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn and it's basically one lane. It's flat and very line-sensitive. You've got to make sure you're right on your marks every lap when you go through there. Then you've got a short chute into turn three. It's a big, long corner and it too is very line-sensitive. Add the fact that we've got a straightaway that's three-quarters of a mile long after that, and it's very important that you get through the last corner well. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you're not bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make."
From a driver's standpoint, what's your biggest challenge at Pocono?
"All three corners are different - that's the most challenging part. It seems like you can always get your car good in two of the three corners, but the guys who are contending for the win are the guys who can get their car good for all three corners, which is very hard to do. It seems like if we can get our car to go through the tunnel turn well, then we're normally able to get it to go through the rest of the racetrack well. The tunnel turn seems to be our toughest turn on the racetrack. Getting through turn two and the last corner of the racetrack that's flat, long and sweeping - those seem to be the toughest two corners to get through. And if you're a little bit off, you're a bunch off. If there's a guy who can get all three of those corners right, then that's the guy who's going to win the race."
After you're done competing at Pocono, you'll put on your track promoter hat and get ready to host the sixth annual Prelude to the Dream Wednesday, June 9 at your racetrack - Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Talk about that.
"It's a lot of fun. The biggest part of the gratification for me is just seeing the guys that come up there and how much fun they have driving these dirt Late Models on a night where we get to race with guys we're typically racing with every week. But we get to do something a little different, and that takes the edge off I think."
Why should someone order the sixth annual Prelude to the Dream and watch it on Pay-Per-View?
"The Prelude to the Dream is a race that we hold prior to 'Dream Weekend,' which is one of our biggest weekends at Eldora Speedway. Professional dirt late model racers from across the country are racing for $100,000 to win. The Prelude to the Dream is on the Wednesday before, and it's a race that myself and more than 25 drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, the NHRA and extreme sports compete in for bragging rights, but also to raise money for charity. It's a fun atmosphere for the drivers, crews, fans and the people watching at home on Pay-Per-View. Most of these guys don't race on dirt very often, so it's a chance for a lot of us to go back to our roots and have a great time. The viewers at home get to see us much differently than they would on a normal race weekend. There are no points, no pressure, just a lot of fun. This year, we're helping out children by raising money from the Prelude to benefit four of the nation's top children's hospitals - Riley Hospital for Children, Cincinnati Children's, Levine Children's Hospital and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital."
How gratifying is it for you to see all the drivers come together to help you with such a great cause?
"That's the best part of it. To me, that's the biggest compliment - that they are willing to take a day out of their schedule. You know, our schedules get more and more hectic every year. So, to get a full day on your schedule, that's taking away a lot. And, for these guys to all do this once a year and come to our facility and race at a place I'm very passionate about is something that is very humbling, but at the same time, it shows their passion and compassion for charities and the fact that they work very hard to give back to communities."
Why is racing on dirt so much fun for you guys?
"I think what's fun, or challenging, about dirt is that the surface is never the same. When we go to Charlotte or Daytona or Talladega, the conditions are pretty much the same every time, as far as the surface goes. Dirt tracks are always different from the last time you were there. So, for the guys who are preparing the cars and doing the setups on them, they kind of have to guess ahead and try to plan for what they think the track is going to do. The drivers have to plan accordingly, too, and they have to make adjustments while they're out on the track because the conditions are constantly changing. That's what's so fun about dirt - it's never the same twice."
How unique is it for more than 25 of the top drivers in the country to race at a half-mile dirt track in the middle of Ohio cornfields?
"It's unreal. I guess it would be like Tiger Woods taking all of his buddies and going to play the local putt-putt course, or Michael Jordan taking all of his friends to the playground and shooting hoops. These guys all converge on this track and it's fun, and it gets us back to our roots - why we got into racing to begin with. There are no points, no prize money. Guys pay their own way to get there and it's for a worthwhile cause."
When you guys go to Eldora, the routine is totally different from a normal race weekend. Is that part of the challenge, or the fun for you guys - getting adjusted to the dirt and getting away from your normal routine?
"Yeah, I think if we could get an hour of practice like we do at a (Sprint) Cup race, most of these guys would really pick this up really quick - and they do anyway. But they have to do it in probably a total of 10 to 12 laps, and that's something they're not used to having to do. I mean, they're used to being able to have a lot of practice time, where on dirt tracks, you just can't spend that much track time without it affecting the racetrack. So, where you used to have two warm-up sessions for the race at a Cup event, now, all of a sudden, you get two five- or six-lap sessions to get ready to go qualify right away, and that's not a lot of time for a professional driver to try to figure out a different racecar and a different racetrack and surface."