TONY STEWART A Decade's Worth of Winning Began at Richmond KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 10, 2009) -- Heading into Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, much attention will be...
A Decade's Worth of Winning Began at Richmond
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 10, 2009) -- Heading into Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, much attention will be paid to the 11 drivers vying for the remaining eight spots in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship, which will be determined once the checkered flag drops at Richmond.
For two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, he was the first to lock himself into the Chase by simply starting the Aug. 16 race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. And with the final race of the regular season now upon him, Stewart will look to score his fourth victory of the season.
As other drivers root and gouge their way into Chase contention, one could assume that Stewart will take it easy. After all, he doesn't have anything on the line. But as the championship point leader for the past 13 races -- a streak that dates back to May 31 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway -- Stewart wants to ensure that he retains his lead when the top-12 Chase drivers have their respective point tallies reset to 5,000. That's because for each win achieved during the 26-race "regular season," 10 bonus points are tacked onto a Chase driver's tally.
Thanks to point-paying wins at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in August, Stewart has 30 bonus points, but Mark Martin and Kyle Busch have four victories apiece, meaning that if they make the Chase, they'll start the first of the final 10-race Chase for the Championship ahead of Stewart. Victory at Richmond would keep Stewart atop the point standings when the series rolls into New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sept. 20 for round one of the Chase.
A win at Richmond would also be fitting given that it would fall 10 years and one day from Stewart's very first Sprint Cup (then Winston Cup) victory, which came on Sept. 11, 1999 when he drove a Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared Pontiac to a dominating win by leading 333 of the 400 laps available (83.2 percent). The triumph was impressive beyond that one race, as Stewart became the first rookie to win in Cup since the late Davey Allison did so on May 3, 1987 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Since then, Stewart has gone to victory lane 35 more times, scored two Sprint Cup championships and even ventured into team ownership, procuring a 50 percent stake in Stewart-Haas Racing, which he co-owns with Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world.
So while Stewart will look forward to Saturday night, and specifically the upcoming Chase for the Championship, he'll also have a chance to celebrate the past. And there's no better way to celebrate than in victory lane.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You're locked into the Chase. So, while other drivers face pressure to make the Chase, is there any pressure for you to just win?
"I'm racing 100 percent pressure-free because we have absolutely nothing to lose. We can't be bumped out of the Chase. We can finish 43rd and it's a non-event. Our goal since being locked in has been to try to do what we can to win and get those 10 extra bonus points. That's our focus. It's all or nothing for us. We're not going to throw away a car trying to make a stupid mistake while trying to get those 10 points, but our goal is to go out and try to win the race. More than that, you don't want to end up with 43rd-place finishes, you want to end up with some momentum on your side after Richmond. You're still going to race smart. There are a lot of guys that are in that situation that are going to be constantly watching each other and it's not fun to be in that situation. It's hard to run a race where your primary goal is to go win the race, but it's a bigger goal to get yourself in the Chase. This week, these guys that are barely in and the guys that are barely out are going to be very conscious and know where these guys are that are ahead of them in the Chase. They're going to dictate their pit strategy off of what these other guys do."
Since you've been in the Chase four of the past five years, does that give you an advantage at Richmond other drivers don't have?
"How you get into the Chase is the same way you win the Chase. You've got to go out there and you've got to be good. You've got to be good in 26 races to get in the Chase, and then you've got to be good for 10 races after that to win the Chase."
With three Sprint Cup wins and two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins, you've had a lot of success at Richmond. Is it one of your favorite tracks?
"It is my favorite track. It's not one of them, it's the favorite track of mine on the circuit. I've won two Truck races and three Cup races there. It's where I got my first win. It's definitely a place I enjoy coming to, and considering how it factors into the Chase, it's an important stop for us."
What's the key to being successful at Richmond?
"You want to make sure that your car is adjustable. We start the race at the end of the day where it's usually pretty hot, but as night comes the track cools down and it changes quite a bit. Old pavement, new pavement, the same theory applies, and that's not something you see at most of the races we go to. It's pretty much isolated to just the night races. You've got to have adjustability, because you know for a fact that the track isn't going to stay the same all night long."
Is Richmond similar to any other tracks you've raced on in your career?
"It just reminds me of some of the shorter tracks that I've run. It has kind of the same feel that three-quarter-mile tracks did with some of the other cars that I've run with. It was like Phoenix the first time I went there. I hadn't been to a 1-mile oval but once in my life, but when I got onto Phoenix, I adjusted and adapted to it really quickly. It was a place where I became very comfortable right away. I had that same feeling when I went to Richmond for the first time. I think every driver has a track that they go to where they get that same feeling. There are just some places that you go to where you adjust, and it really suits your driving style."
DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Richmond is a home race for you, as you grew up in Virginia in the tiny town of Floyd. Richmond is also the site of the press conference that was held last September where you were announced as Stewart's crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing. Now that you're going to Richmond as Tony's crew chief, combined with the season this team has had so far, do you look this as another milestone race? Or do you put all of that on the shelf and not worry about it, and just attack it like it's any other point-paying race?
"We do attack it like it's any other race, but it's also a special place in my heart, because it is in Virginia, a couple hours from home, and a place where we did the announcement. But it's also a special place for me because we know how well Tony's run there in the past. He's got a very strong, long history there. It was pretty cool to see the way he's been able to run there in the past. You know we better be on our 'A' game when we get there. We've got to be ready to give Tony a car he can drive because we know he can get around that place. It's a little bit of extra pressure as well. We're using it and hopefully we can take that to the front."
Had you been to Richmond as a fan or had you worked on any teams before you became a mainstay in NASCAR?
"No. I'd only actually been to Richmond for the Late Model races. I hadn't been to a single Cup race until I actually started working for a Cup team. The very first time I was there was the last time it had Armco barriers, and then after that, it was the new configuration we're running now. It was just amazing to take our little Late Model team up there to that big, monster three-quarter-mile oval. It felt like you were racing with the big boys when you showed up to that place after they re-did it."