For Tony Stewart, there is nothing subtle about his advantage.
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Advantages are hard to come by in the ultra-competitive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Through the first six races of the 2014 season, six different drivers have gone to victory lane, which means teams are placing a high, albeit discreet, premium on any technological nuance that provides a competitive edge.
For Tony Stewart, there is nothing subtle about his advantage.
As a technology partner of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Mobil 1 is more than just a decal emblazoned across the hood of Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet SS. Led by Stewart, SHR’s stable of drivers serve as the ultimate field testers, helping Mobil 1 improve the quality of its product.
SHR has already leveraged those proficiencies to the tune of a series-leading two victories in 2014 – Kevin Harvick at Phoenix International Raceway and Kurt Busch last Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Taking advantage of those same efficiencies is what Stewart expects to do Sunday in the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where Stewart is already a two-time Sprint Cup race winner.
While Texas has a notorious reputation of featuring races that come down to fuel mileage – a complication that places a significant premium on achieving optimal fuel efficiency – Stewart knows what it takes to get the most out of his racecar when it comes to racing at the 1.5-mile oval.
In 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas dating back to 1999, Stewart has scored a pole, six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in addition to his two wins. He’s led a total of 727 laps – third-best among active Sprint Cup drivers – and has completed all but 105 of the laps available to him for a lap completion rate of 98.6 percent.
It was during Stewart’s most recent Texas win where he and his Mobil 1-infused Chevy were models of proficiency, dominating the 2011 November race by leading seven times for a race-high 173 laps. It moved Stewart to within three points of leader Carl Edwards in the championship standings with just two races remaining. Stewart went on to win the 2011 championship, adding to the titles he earned in 2002 and 2005.
Stewart’s first Texas win came in similar fashion, for in November 2006 Stewart led eight times for a race-high 278 laps.
Augmenting his Sprint Cup success at Texas, Stewart has an IROC win (April 2006) and three IndyCar Series starts that saw him lead from the pole twice en route to racking up 208 of a possible 624 laps led (33.4 percent).
With two SHR drivers having already reached victory lane, Stewart plans to join the party, thanks to an assist from Mobil 1, the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Texas is a track where you have been consistently good. What makes you so comfortable there? “You have to be comfortable or you’re not going to go fast. The more comfortable I am, the faster we go. This track, the grooves have moved around, especially in the last couple of years. We’ve seen the track get wider and it’s made it to where you can move around on the racetrack and where you can run the top side or the bottom side. It’s nice from a driver’s perspective to be able to have that flexibility behind the steering wheel, knowing that if your car’s not driving exactly the way you want it to, you can move around the racetrack and find a spot the car likes better.”
You’ve logged a lot of laps at Texas. In your opinion how has the track developed since those early years? “Any time you put more seasons on a racetrack, the better it gets because it seems like the pavement wears out on the bottom and it makes it to where you can run the top and be fast and you can run the bottom and be fast. It makes the whole racetrack, speed-wise, about the same, versus when they pave a racetrack and the only groove is right on the bottom. The fastest way is the shortest way because it all has the same amount of grip, so the shorter distance is faster. Every year we come here with our Mobil 1 Chevy, I think the racing just gets better and better, as far as being able to move around on the racetrack and guys not having to just follow each other and get stuck behind each other. You can actually pass. You can race. You can get away from guys if your car’s fast.”
In your last 14 races at Texas, you’ve earned a top-five rating in several loop data statistics including driver rating, average running position, fastest laps run and laps led, to name a few. How have you been able to adapt to Texas’ layout? “I’ve found that you can pass anywhere, really. If you get a guy who misses the bottom of the corner and he bobbles, you can get around him. But even if someone doesn’t make a mistake and you’ve got a little better car than they do, the groove has moved up enough over the years to where the track’s a little wider, so you have more room to get a run on a guy. But, as the tires wear out and grip goes away, drivers will make mistakes and a car’s handling will become more important. And, when a guy makes a mistake, you need to be there to capitalize on it. You can really pass anywhere as long as the right opportunity comes up.”
A lot of drivers talk about turn two at Texas, where it feels like the banking falls out from underneath them. Can you describe that sensation? “It does. The entry and exit of these corners, they’re very abrupt as far as the banking. When you turn in the corner, it’s very abrupt getting in and falls off very quickly. The reason for that, when they built Texas Motor Speedway, they intended to have the Indy cars race on the apron. That’s why the apron is so wide at Texas. The Indy cars were not originally meant to run on the banking. That’s why the banking on the entry of the corner and exit falls off so fast, so the cars could come from the straightaway from the apron and back up with a smooth transition from the bottom.
It makes it a different challenge than what we have at Charlotte or Atlanta because of that. It does make it a lot more challenging to get your car set up for it. You can’t relax on the entry and you can’t relax on the exit of the corner. A lot of times, it’s hard to get your car secure on the entry because you don’t have that banking to hold it. Once you get in the corner, it seems like it’s all right. Same thing happens on the exit.
Turn two is the tighter of the two exits of the racetrack. You’re still trying to finish the corner there and you have to keep tugging on the steering wheel and, at the same time, make sure you don’t lose the back (of the car). It definitely falls out from under you. When it does, you have to make sure your car is tight enough to make it through that transition.”