Has 19 Daytona wins, would like to make it 20 on Saturday
Duck, duck, goose. It’s a simple childhood game in which, after being tagged, the reluctant goose gives chase in the hopes of regaining the preferred status of a duck. It can go on and on with contestants making laps and taking turns at being both goose and duck.
While it is a guileless contest for kids, the concept is one that resonates when it comes to restrictor-plate racing. For example, multiple players will take their turn in the lead during Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. It’s where each driver hopes to be chased rather than be the chaser. In other words, it’s duck versus goose.
This weekend, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will play the role of the elusive duck in both name and game.
As it did in 2013, Ducks Unlimited will share Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet SS with Bass Pro Shops during the Coke Zero 400. Since 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across North America.
Stewart enters the race weekend as Daytona’s leading all-time race winner among active drivers. Between point-paying Sprint Cup races, non-point Sprint Cup events, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the former IROC series, Stewart has a total of 19 Daytona wins, placing him second on the track’s all-time win list, 15 behind the legendary Dale Earnhardt, who has 34 total victories at Daytona and is part of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2010.
When it comes to Sprint Cup action at the “World Center of Racing,” Stewart’s numbers are just ducky.
Stewart is a four-time winner of the Coke Zero 400 (2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012) – the most among active drivers. With back-to-back wins in 2005 and 2006, Stewart is the only active driver to win consecutive Coke Zero 400s. Going along with those four wins are nine top-five finishes, 14 top-10s and 665 laps led in 31 career, point-paying Sprint Cup starts at Daytona.
In his most recent Sprint Cup win at Daytona, the 2012 Coke Zero 400, Stewart led 22 laps en route to the victory. It was a race in which he exercised textbook patience, waiting to make his case for the win well past halfway. He took the lead on lap 131 and led 21 circuits before relinquishing the top spot to the duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle on lap 152 before a massive crash set up a two-lap dash to the finish. Stewart regained the lead on the final lap with an impressive drive around Biffle and Kenseth off turn two and down the backstretch when a multicar wreck brought out the caution, securing Stewart’s victory.
While Stewart doesn’t consider himself a fan of restrictor-plate racing, his stats tell a much different story. In addition to being the winningest active driver at Daytona, Stewart has won at least one race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway for the past nine years. A win Saturday night would extend that record into the double digit realm and go a long way in helping Stewart lock himself into the 16-driver field for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. All are reminders that if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, it’s a duck.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
As a driver, how much input do you have in making the car go fast at Daytona?
“The race situation is a lot different from practice. You tend to have a much larger pack of cars and that makes a really big difference. But you’re still able to figure out what your car likes and dislikes in the draft during practice. It may not be exactly what you’ll experience in the race, but it’s the closest thing to it. Basically, it gives you an idea of what your car is capable of and where you need to be to make the moves you want.”
It seems that luck plays as much of a factor at Daytona as everything else. Why is that?
“Someone described racing on the superspeedways of being a combination of a science project and the luck of a casino, and it’s exactly that way. You do everything in your power to take care of the science or technology side. You do everything you can to build the fastest car. If you don’t have the luck to go with it – even if you don’t have any drama with getting the car touched, nothing happens to the car – if you’re just in the wrong spot at the wrong time, it can take you out of the opportunity to take the best racecar in the field and win.”
Talk about winning the 2012 Coke Zero 400.
“The biggest challenge was Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle because when they hooked up, I didn’t think there was anybody that could beat them. But we were able to stay in touch with them, and I got a great restart with Kasey Kahne helping me. We just had to try to separate Matt and Greg. Once we got them pulled apart, I think Matt tried to reconnect with Greg, and we carried enough momentum to get back around in front of him and get down on that bottom line. I tried to back up to Matt to make sure they didn’t get a huge run on us. They were coming on the outside in (turns) three and four and the last wreck happened, and we were just fortunate enough to be leading still.”
When you’re in the draft, how much control do you feel you have inside the racecar?
“It depends on the circumstances. You can’t see the air and you hit different pockets (of air). You hit a pocket where you get a real big tow or you hit a pocket where it seems they’re getting a tow and pulling you back, and you just have to play the circumstances. You just try getting in different scenarios and try to learn if you get in the middle of the draft, what does it do? Will it give you a push? Will it not give you a push? If you get next to this car, does it suck you up or does it slow you down? It’s trial and error, but at the same time, it’s like pulling a pin on a grenade. You know through that process that if one guy makes a mistake, your car’s torn up. It’s just a delicate balance of how hard you go, how many things you try, and how much time you spend doing it.”