Tony Stewart: "There are tracks that I’ve been to that weren’t my favorite tracks, but I still found a way to win there."
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), knows all too well the importance of luck in racing.
For example, it could be argued that it was a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time last Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway when Stewart was taken out of contention in a multicar accident after having led just a handful of laps. Or it could be inferred that it was an instance of bad luck, leading credence to the notion that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
But sometimes it’s just good to be good. And when it comes to racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Stewart is good. Very good, in fact.
Stewart is a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner at New Hampshire (July 2000, July 2005 and September 2011) and owns the best driver rating at the 1.058-mile oval (111.0). His laps led total in Loudon (1,302) is second only to Jeff Gordon’s total of 1,352 laps led, yet Gordon has made nine more starts than Stewart. Stewart and Gordon are the only two drivers to lead more than 800 laps at New Hampshire.
Stewart took to the flat, paperclip-shaped track from the word go, first racing at New Hampshire in the IndyCar Series in August 1996 and recording his first win there in the June 1998 IndyCar race. A prelude to that win was Stewart’s first stock-car appearance at New Hampshire, when in May 1998 he finished second to Buckshot Jones in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
Those strong runs continued as Stewart advanced to the elite Sprint Cup Series, where as a rookie in 1999, he finished 10th and second in his first two Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire.
The first of his three Sprint Cup wins came in July 2000, where Stewart dominated, leading 156 of the 273 laps in the rain-shortened race. Sprint Cup win No. 2 came in July 2005, a year in which Stewart proved to be rock solid in the Granite State, as he finished second in his return to New Hampshire in September. Of the 600 laps available in those two races, Stewart led 405 laps (67.5 percent).
Even when Stewart left the comfort of Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 season to become a driver/owner at SHR, his prowess at New Hampshire remained wicked good. From 2009 through 2013, Stewart has led 366 laps at New Hampshire with the high-water mark coming in 2011, where SHR swept the track’s poles and races.
Former SHR driver Ryan Newman won the pole for the track’s July race, and Stewart qualified second. The 1-2 start ended with a 1-2 finish, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Hendrick Motorsports started 1-2 and finished 1-2 in the 1989 Daytona 500. When the series returned to New Hampshire in September, Newman again won the pole, but it was Stewart who won the race. It was the first of a five-win campaign during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup that enabled Stewart to win his third Sprint Cup championship, augmenting the titles he earned in 2002 and 2005.
In addition to the wins, Stewart has a pole (September 2005), 14 top-fives and 17 top-10s in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire. Throw in a 2008 Nationwide Series win, and it’s proof that the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS is just plain good at New Hampshire.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you like about New Hampshire? “There’s nothing trick or fancy about it. It’s just a fun track. It just seems like it’s always been a fun driver’s track. Your car has to work well there, but when you get to racing guys – you’re trying to outbreak them, trying to get your car to turn and you struggle for forward bite. It’s just got a little bit of everything the drivers look for to have a good race.”
Because New Hampshire is a difficult racetrack, are some drivers beat before they even make a practice lap because they have a negative outlook about the racetrack? “It certainly doesn’t help if someone has a bad attitude going in there. It kind of puts a strike against you, but I’m not going to say that you’re already beat. There are tracks that I’ve been to that weren’t my favorite tracks, but I still found a way to win there. You’ve just got to stay focused and work hard to find what it takes to be good.”
Explain a lap around New Hampshire. “It’s a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you’ve got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too, so it’s hard to get up off the corners. Then you’ve got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it’s hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again.”
What makes New Hampshire unique? “It just has long, sweeping corners. The corners in comparison to where we normally race, we’re used to having a lot of banking, but New Hampshire is pretty flat. It’s one of those tracks where you’re either fighting entry-loose, entry-exit and nice in the center, or you’re fighting tight in the center and you’re good on entry and good on exit. It’s a juggling act trying to get the car balanced for all three sections of the corner.”
Is New Hampshire a good place to race? “Obviously, I like it because I’ve had success there. But at the same time, it’s a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it’s hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you’ve got a good car, it’s always fun to race.”
While you’ve won at New Hampshire, you’ve also had races where you’ve struggled. How can one race weekend turn out great and another turn into one you’d rather forget? “If you miss on something, it can be a miserable day. It seems like you don’t see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That’s what makes a day there miserable when you miss. It’s just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front.”