KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (April 19, 2012) – On Tuesday, three-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart was honored by President Barack Obama at The White House for winning the 2011 Sprint Cup title.
This fall, Obama will square off with Mitt Romney in the general election to decide who will be the President of the United States for the next four years. Romney, who has all but won the Republican nomination, has outlasted nearly all his party’s challengers during the primary season and will go for the biggest prize of all following his likely nomination at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30 in Tampa, Fla.
While Romney’s primary season is nearly over, Stewart’s is just getting started.
Think of the Sprint Cup season as 26 primaries and a general election made up of 10 races. Drivers need to perform well in the season’s first 26 races in order to qualify for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, which features the top-10 drivers in points, as well as two “wild card” drivers who have the most wins and are between 11th and 20th in the standings after the first 26 events.
The Sprint Cup season’s eighth “primary” is this Sunday in the battleground state of Kansas via the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
The polls show Stewart in a comfortable position for the 10-race “general election.” While he is currently seventh in the championship standings, 39 points behind series leader Greg Biffle, Stewart’s two wins thus far this season are the most of any driver, which puts him in prime position should he need to rely on the “wild card” to earn entry into the Chase.
A win at Kansas would not only give Stewart his third win of 2012, it would also give him his third victory at Kansas, breaking a three-way time between himself, Jimmie Johnson and Biffle for most wins at the track. In addition to victories at the 1.5-mile oval in October 2006 and October 2009, Stewart has eight top-10 finishes in 12 career Sprint Cup starts.
Bolstering Stewart’s driving record is the record of his car. Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington are bringing Chassis No. 14-706 – the same No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet that led twice for 42 laps en route to winning the rain-shortened race March 25 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
The primary election is still months away, but as any good politician will tell you, it’s never too early to begin fundraising. Or, in Stewart’s case, accumulating wins and the delegates… err, points that come with winning.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The first of your two Kansas wins came in 2006, and it came in a fuel mileage race. How’d you do it?
“It was a battle between the driver and the crew chief. The crew chief is yelling at you every lap to save fuel, but you’re not slowing down enough and he knows it because he’s looking at the stopwatch. When you’ve got guys behind you, you know you don’t want to give those spots up in case they happen to make it on fuel. So, I tried to save as much fuel as I could and still hold guys off. We were able to take the chance because we had nothing to lose. Not being in the Chase that year gave us that opportunity to take the chance and go ahead and run for it.”
When you took the checkered flag you were out of gas. What were your thoughts inside the car when you knew you had run out?
“When we were coming down the backstretch, I asked how many laps we had left and they said, ‘You’re coming to the white (flag).’ Then I saw the needle start bouncing and it wasn’t on zero, but it was down to three pounds and bouncing up and down. We came down the frontstretch and it started losing pressure when we went into turn one. Then it caught up for a second, but as soon as we came off turn two, it lost pressure immediately. It’s just important to get it kicked out of gear right away and just get down low on the racetrack and take the shortest distance around. We just coasted around and hoped we had enough of a lead to stay out front. Turned out we did.”
Your second Kansas win came in 2009. How decisive was the call to take two tires instead of four on your final pit stop to win that race?
“We made a great call getting two (tires) and the guys had an awesome stop. That was really what it boiled down to. We got that track position at the end, and we had the luxury of being able to pick the inside or outside lane on the restart, and I kind of debated back-and-forth which side I needed to be on. But I kind of struggled when I was stuck on the bottom on restarts. So, I took a gamble and went to the top and got enough of a lead on Kasey (Kahne) to get down to the bottom that by the time we got to (turns) one and two, I was able to run my line. We got enough of a gap right off the bat that it gave me the flexibility to run my own line, run my own pace and let those guys have to worry about catching us.”
But Jeff Gordon was catching you toward the end of the race. How did you hold him off?
“We just kind of ran our pace. When somebody starts running you down, it’s easy to over-drive your car trying to maintain a gap, and you end up making it worse on yourself. So even though I saw Jeff getting bigger in the mirror, I didn’t want to burn the tires off in case we got a caution and we got a green-white-checkered, so we just ran hard enough to not abuse the tires. It’s like he could get so close and then he couldn’t get any closer. When he got up there, he got tight, and he had to run pretty hard to get by Greg Biffle, and then to run us down. By then, he pretty much got the good off his tires and we got the luxury to kind of, on that restart, run our own pace and take care of it and make sure we made it last the whole way.”
You seemingly had the race won at Kansas back in 2007, only to see it turn 180 degrees and end up with a 39th-place finish.
“That was just circumstances. We were able to win a fuel mileage race there where we really weren’t in a position to win, but because of our situation in the point standings, we were able to gamble and go for it. Somebody else that day lost a race they should’ve won, and that year may have been one of those for us. But it all comes out in the wash and it all averages out eventually.”
Is what happened to you in 2007 at Kansas a prime example of how fickle this sport can be?
“There are guys out there on different agendas, especially with the Chase format. There are guys each week that have a different agenda of what they’re trying to accomplish with that day’s race. There are guys that have the opportunity to take chances and there are guys who don’t have the opportunity to take chances. With that, it creates a lot of different scenarios at the end of the day. We took a chance that year. The scenario we had projected for ourselves just didn’t work out.”
You made a trip to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and met President Obama. How was it?
“We got a chance to go to the Capitol building first for lunch, and we spent some time there before heading over to the White House. It’s always an honor when our sport as a whole gets invited, and to be a part of the group that makes the Chase and know that the White House is something you’re probably going to get invited to is a huge honor.”
What kind of interaction did you have with the president?
“He got a couple of good wisecracks in during his speech. That’s the stuff that makes it fun to me. You can tell they do their homework before we get here. We had the honor of speaking with him during Champions Week in Las Vegas. He actually called us from Air Force One and we spoke for a couple of minutes. That was a pretty neat surprise. He’s really passionate about our sport. It’s nice having the leader of our country be as interested in what we’re doing as we are.”