Did You Say Over?!
KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (Oct. 10, 2012) – The Big One may have dropped last Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, but just like when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, nothing is over until Tony Stewart decides it is. And despite being seventh in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, 46 points out of first, it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the going gets tough, the tough get going, as Stewart proved last year when he rallied from seventh after Round No. 5 of the 10-race Chase to take the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship five races later at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
That inspiring trek has given nearly every Chase driver renewed inspiration this year, including Stewart. The only thing lacking from Stewart’s magical run to the championship was a call by legendary announcer Vin Scully, who could have easily used his line from the first game of the 1988 World Series, where in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs and a runner on base, the Detroit Tigers’ Kirk Gibson homered off Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley to rally from a 4-3 deficit to beat the A’s 5-4, prompting Scully to say: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Stewart made the impossible happen last year, and as he looks to trap lightning in a bottle again, he has renewed competition from 11 other drivers who believe that they too can win this year’s Sprint Cup no matter the odds, as six races still remain before a champion is crowned.
With the wild-card race that is Talladega behind them, the 12 Chase drivers have their destinies back in their hands, unlike at Talladega, where one’s result can change in the blink of an eye. Just ask Stewart, who led lap 188, but found himself tumbling upside down on lap 189 – the final lap – which relegated him to a 22nd-place finish. Instead of securing 44 points, Stewart only tallied 23 points.
Saturday night’s 500-lapper at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway provides the next opportunity for Stewart to make up that lost ground, and with one win, four top-threes, six top-fives, 12 top-10s and a total of 695 laps led in 27 career, point-paying Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval, there won’t be any laying around stuff by Stewart and his Mobil 1/Office Depot team.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
It seems to be human nature to write drivers off after a certain race in the Chase, but you were 24 points back with five to go last year and still came back to win the championship. Knowing that, is there still hope for drivers like you in this year’s Chase?
“I think it gives people in the positions we’re in at least hope, and after last year, it’s proof that it can be done. I think it’s a good example for all of us – people in the media and us as competitors. You kind of have an idea in your mind of what you think is going to keep you in and what’s going to get you out of the hunt. But I think last year was one of those unique scenarios that proved to everybody that you don’t give up, you don’t quit on it. Until they say that you are mathematically out of it, you’re never out of it.”
On that note, you’re seventh in points, 46 behind Chase leader Brad Keselowski. Can you still win this championship and collect your fourth career Sprint Cup title?
“My standpoint has always been, until they say that you’re mathematically out of it, you always have a shot. We won the USAC Silver Crown Series championship in ’95, and we were the third driver of three that had a shot, mathematically, to win it. There were two drivers, Jack Hewitt and Dave Darland, that were neck-and-neck in the point standings, and we were kind of the third wheel. We were only included in the group media sessions because we were mathematically in the hunt. Both of those drivers ended up having problems in the race, and we won the championship by two points. You realize when you use that experience, knowing that as long as you’re mathematically in the hunt, you still have a shot. If we have a chance to win the championship at the end, trust me, we’re all for that and we would love nothing more than that. But I think right now where we’re at and how many points we need to make up, I think it lets us have a go-for-broke attitude and just go out and try to win races. I’ve always said, if you win races, the points will take care of itself. We could still, by theory, win the next six races in a row and still not win the point championship. For us, it’s about going out and doing what we can do, and the other 11 drivers are going to dictate their fates, too.”
How do you compete against 11 guys for a championship while still competing with 42 guys for a race win?
“For the 12 that are competing, we’re still racing against 31 other guys just like we’ve been since the beginning of the year. For the first two or three weeks, I don’t think we’ve been too conscious of where we are on the racetrack. It’s still business as usual. But as we get closer to the end of the season – probably with two or three races to go – you’re going to be singling out guys a little bit more and paying closer attention to where they are on the racetrack, what position they’re in, and how many laps they’ve led. The further we get into it, the more the points are going to separate the field, and you’re going to see exactly who you’re racing against for the championship. There probably won’t be 12 guys with two or three races left. It’ll be down to four or five guys who have a shot at it.”
You’ve only been out of the Chase once in the nine-year history of the Chase. For the 31 drivers not in the Chase, what’s it like for them when they’re racing guys like you who are in the Chase?
“When you’re up there racing with those guys, it makes you timid and it makes you think, ‘Well, should I just let them go, or should I just go ahead and race my race?’ I know the consideration I got last year from guys and how much I appreciated it. Instead of just saying you want to race your own race, you say maybe you should give this guy an extra break here and there. It makes it frustrating to race because you aren’t racing your own race that way. You’re racing a race in a race, so to speak.
“You just have to show them respect. You still want to win races, but at the same time, you still have to be mindful that there are 12 guys racing for a series championship. You try to race hard, but at the same time, you have to be respectful and give them the room they deserve.”
Since you’ve seen both sides of the Chase, do you think there should be a separate point system for those competing in the Chase?
“I am in favor of it. I think that if you have 12 guys racing each other, they should have their own deal. You know if you get in between two Chase drivers that you cost them points. It shouldn’t be that way.
“The Chase is exciting. There is nothing wrong with it. It just puts some drivers in some awkward positions.”
What does it take to be successful at Charlotte?
“It always seems like it’s a battle of trying to get your car to cut through the center of the corner and keep the forward drive in it. It seems like it’s a sacrifice of one or the other, but the two ends of the track are different. It seems like you can carry a lot more speed through (turns) one and two, and (turns) three and four are a little more thread-the-needle-type corners. Sometimes there isn’t a big difference between the fall and spring races at Charlotte. They’re spread out so far and they’re at the beginning of summer and the end of summer, so a lot of times they can be very similar.”
Source: Stewart-Haas Racing