Tony Stewart: The art of racing in a Cuisinart
KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (April 2, 2013) – An extremely powerful 800-watt motor that pulses, stirs, mixes, purees and chops. It can even slice, shred and process a variety of ingredients – all in record time. It’s big, it’s powerful and it’s easy.
Those are just a few attributes of a Cuisinart food processor that actually has several applications. The general idea, though, is to be able to throw together several ingredients and create one fabulous meal.
It’s really not all that different from a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. But instead of selling points like mixing, stirring and shredding, the features include bumping, banging and sliding. Like several ingredients being mixed together in a Cuisinart, 43 drivers are tossed together with the desired outcome being an entertaining race. And just like a Cuisinart, the results are nothing short of amazing.
Right from the start, something has seemingly always clicked for Stewart at Martinsville. While his first finish at the paperclip-shaped .526-mile track was a 20th-place effort in April 1999, Stewart started that particular race weekend by scoring his first career Sprint Cup pole. A little more than a year later he would go on to win what would be the first of his three victories at Martinsville, a race that he also started from the pole and led 179 laps en route to victory lane.
Although in recent years a race at Martinsville has typically been a tale of two drivers – Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, Stewart’s record at the 66-year-old speedway is none too shabby. In addition to his three wins and three poles, Stewart’s stats include nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. He only has one DNF (Did Not Finish) in 28 career Sprint Cup starts which features a lap completion rate of 96.1 percent and a total of 1,208 laps led. And when it comes to qualifying, Stewart still owns the track record of 19.306 seconds at 98.804 mph – a feat he accomplished in October 2005.
For the second consecutive race, Stewart will pilot the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing when cars hit the southern Virginia short track. The venerable facility has seen every generation of NASCAR stock car, and Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 marks the track’s first visit by the sixth-generation (Gen-6) car. Stewart, a student of the sport who appreciates all racing history, wants to make his sure it’s his Gen-6 car occupying Martinsville’s victory lane.
Getting there, however, will be a chore, as it always is at Martinsville. Stewart, a veteran of more than 13,000 racing laps at Martinsville, knows this well. He’s tasted success and has mastered the art of racing in a Cuisinart.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
When you first came to Martinsville as a 27-year-old rookie back in 1999, what did you think of the track?
“I looked at it and thought, ‘I can’t believe they race stock cars here.’ It’s what I was used to from a Sprint Car and Midget standpoint. I had seen it on TV, but the first time you’re here, you think, ‘This is really small,’ and you realize how close quarters it is. Back then, the noses on the cars were slanted and the rear bumpers were really high, and if you touched somebody you turned them around easily. Now, our bumpers match up better. You don’t wreck somebody right off the bat. But if you hit them enough, you will.”
Your teammate, Danica Patrick, will be making her first visit to Martinsville this weekend. What are your expectations for her?
“I’m sure it’s going to be interesting. I’m going there with two roles – I’ll be there as an owner and as a driver. As an owner, I’m going to be really nervous. From a driver’s side, it will be kind of fun to watch her learn. I’m sure there are going to be some things that happen in the race she’s not ready for. There’s never been a race there that I haven’t touched bumpers with somebody at some point. Ninety percent of the time, it’s accidental and doesn’t lead to a wreck. But you do get bumped, and that’s something she’s not used to yet. Just like anybody else’s first trip to Martinsville, it’s definitely going to be a learning experience, and you’re going to leave there with a headache.”
Martinsville is a very unique track. What is it like to race there?
“Even on the bad days, it can be fun. And when you have a good day, it’s great. The grandfather clock you get for winning is one of the cooler trophies in our sport. Normally, 20-year-old kids don’t get too excited about grandfather clocks, but you realize it’s more than that at Martinsville. There’s a lot of pride and lot of history with this sport at Martinsville.
You mention drama. Do drivers keep track of what they think is intentional and what isn’t?
“Everybody keeps score at Martinsville. The crew guys keep score of how many hot dogs they eat. Everybody in the cars keeps score of how many times they get run over and who it is. We definitely pay attention.”
Martinsville is a throwback venue. How do you see its place in the sport?
“I don’t care how old it gets or how far down the road it gets, it’s not going to be a track that I ever see leaving the schedule. It’s got too much history, too much personality, and that’s what you see a lack of in some of these 2-mile and 1.5-mile tracks. At those places, you’re going to get strung out. You’re going to get away from people. But the fans really like to see us on top of each other. That’s what ensures the longevity of Martinsville – the action they’re going to see.”
Do you have a particular Martinsville memory that stands out?
“For a long time, we’d run really well there and hadn’t won a race, and then even after we’d won our first race, it took a long time to win our second. It’s a place where we’ve really run well at a lot. A lot of the races that were some of the most fun were races we didn’t win, but we ran in the top-five and had pretty good battles during the day. It’s place where if you have a good driving racecar, it’s a blast to run, but if it’s off, it’s a long, long day. You don’t think a half-mile track is physically demanding, but if your car’s not driving well, you’re pretty tired at the end of the day.”
You had a rare weekend off before Martinsville, which gave everyone time to regroup. Five races into the season, where are you?
“Disappointed. We’ve definitely had some back luck, especially at Daytona and Bristol. To have a flat tire that early in the race and have to ride out the rest of the race definitely makes for a long day. But, it’s part of it. It’s still early in the year and we have a lot of racing to do. There are definitely some areas we need to gain on, but everybody’s in that boat right now. We just have to do the work that I know we’re capable of doing and rebound from it.”
What are some areas you need to work on?
“It’s just learning a new racecar. This Gen-6 car out of the box is a much, much better and more stable car than anything we’ve had in the past. The hard part is that it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. So, we’ve got to go out and do our homework and find out what it likes and dislikes. There are some teams that have done a better job of coming out of the box and figuring it out than we have, but I’m not concerned about it, and I’m not panicked about it because I know we’ve got a group that will figure this out pretty quick.”
Is Martinsville perhaps the one venue where the newness of the Gen-6 car really doesn’t matter?
“Martinsville is probably the one place you have to worry about the least when it comes to new changes and new cars. The action’s going to be the same, and it’s a track that’s not a big aero track. You don’t have to worry about aerodynamics. If you have a problem where you knock the right-front fender off the car, you know you still have a good shot at having a good result as long as the car is mechanically sound.”