TONY STEWART More Than a Decade's Worth of Winning Began at Richmond KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 9, 2010) - Heading into Saturday night's Air Guard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, much attention will be...
More Than a Decade's Worth of Winning Began at Richmond
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 9, 2010) - Heading into Saturday night's Air Guard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, much attention will be paid to the four drivers vying for the remaining two 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 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing, he locked himself into the Chase by winning last Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and in doing so, picked up 10 precious bonus points that he'll carry with him into the Chase when the top-12 driver's point standings are reset to 5,000.
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. The worst point standing he could have to start the Chase is eighth, and the best is fourth. But with another 10 bonus points up for grabs at Richmond - points that transfer to the Chase - expect an all-out sprint for all 400 laps around Richmond's .75-mile oval.
In fact, with making the Chase being somewhat anticlimactic, as 11th-place Greg Biffle has a 161-point lead over 13th, and 12th-place Clint Bowyer has a 117-point lead over 13th, the rooting and gouging may well be for the win. A checkers-or-wreckers mentality, for once, carries very little downside, as the top-12 that roll into Richmond will most likely be the top-12 that roll into the 10-race Chase.
It appears that Vince Lombardi was right, for winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. That suits Stewart just fine. His victory at Atlanta was the 38th Sprint Cup win of his career, and it kept a streak of logging at least one victory in each of his 12 Sprint Cup seasons going.
Seven times Stewart has scored back-to-back wins, and if he were to make it an eighth time with a win at Richmond, it would be a fitting location, as the Sept. 11 Air Guard 400 falls 11 years to the day of 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 37 more times, scored two Sprint Cup championships and even ventured into team ownership, procuring a 50 percent stake in Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, which he co-owns with Gene Haas, founder of 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 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala 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 is to try and 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."
Since you've been in the Chase five of the past six 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 just always thought it's the perfect-sized track for a Cup race. The other short tracks we run - Bristol and Martinsville - they're cool in their own right, but there's a lot of congestion at those two tracks. But at Richmond, it just seems like that extra quarter-mile, and that three-quarter-mile shape, and how wide the groove gets there, allows for good racing. It seems like we have to race ourselves and race the racetrack versus racing each other a lot of times. You do have to race each other, obviously, but there are a lot of times during the race when you have the flexibility to move around on the racetrack and try to find a spot your car likes better than somewhere else. A lot of times on a short track you don't have the flexibility. You're more narrowed down with what groove you're going to be in."
What's the key to being successful at Richmond?
"You want to make sure your car is adjustable. We start the race at the end of the day, when 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 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 they go to where they get that same feeling. There are just some places you go to where you adjust, and it really suits your driving style."
DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala 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 in September 2008, when you were announced as Stewart's crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing. Do you pay attention to any of that, or do you put 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 the 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."