What can "Smoke" do at Fontana?
In more ways than one, this week is a rush for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
Teams rushed to get back from what turned out to be a Sunday night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway as rain pushed the afternoon race to a primetime affair. The four-car SHR operation diligently rushed to turn cars, equipment and trucks around for the trip to the left coast for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – the third western race of the very young 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
And the rush won’t stop once SHR finally touches down in Southern California. Tony Stewart will make sure of it.
Rush Truck Centers is back for the 2014 season as an SHR partner, making its season debut as primary sponsor for Stewart and the No. 14 Chevrolet SS this weekend in Fontana.
A subsidiary of Rush Enterprises, Inc., Rush Truck Centers is the premier service solutions provider to the commercial vehicle industry and the United States’ largest network of truck and bus dealerships, representing industry-leading brands. With more than 100 vehicle centers strategically located in high-traffic areas or near major highways, Rush Truck Centers operate as one-stop centers offering an integrated approach to the needs of its customers.
As a partner of SHR since 2010, Rush Truck Centers has played an integral role in getting the team’s racecars to and from the track. The relationship evolved and the company signed on to be the primary sponsor for Stewart at three events in 2013. In 2014, Rush Truck Centers will serve as a primary sponsor of Stewart and the No. 14 team for five races, with the Auto Club 400 serving as its kickoff.
Rush Truck Centers’ timing couldn’t be better.
Stewart and Co. are coming off a season-best fourth-place finish at Bristol. Now they carry that momentum to Fontana, a track where Stewart is already a two-time Sprint Cup winner, the most recent of which came in 2012 in a rain-shortened race around the 2-mile oval.
Although that race did not run to its scheduled distance, the fact that Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet was fast couldn’t be negated. The three-time Sprint Cup champion started ninth and quickly charged to the front of the field, taking the lead for the first time on lap 85. He would eventually be credited with a total of 42 laps led, including the final 22.
Preceding that victory was a win in October 2010 at Fontana, an event Stewart won from the 22nd starting spot.
In addition to those wins, Stewart has scored six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana. And while he earned an impressive fourth-place finish in his very first start at the track in 1999, it’s with the inception of SHR in 2009 that Stewart’s stats have soared.
Since SHR’s inaugural season, Stewart’s poorest Auto Club result is the 22nd-place finish he earned last season, the result of an incident with Joey Logano in the final laps that dropped him from the top-10, where he had competed for the majority of the race. In the seven races since 2009, Stewart has failed to lead a lap only once, which was in February 2010 when he finished ninth.
As a driver/owner at SHR, Stewart is always in a rush. And this week in Fontana, Stewart’s fast-paced life is appropriately emblazoned with Rush Truck Centers.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What stands out about your last win at Fontana, other than it being shortened by rain?
“It really boiled down to Denny Hamlin and myself. We were, at different times, the fastest cars on the track, but I was really happy with my car. We didn’t have to adjust very much with it and I felt like we had a car that had a lot of adjustability to it later in the day. Really from the drop of the green flag through the course of the race, and to the part where we actually got rain, we had a dominant car. Denny had spots where he was the fastest and I think he had room to gain to close that ground. They were definitely en route to do that when the rain came, but I think it was really going to be down to the two of us for the rest of the day, regardless of the weather.”
Fontana is a track with multiple racing grooves which places the race a little more in the driver’s hands. Do you appreciate that, and how soon do you start moving around the track testing the other grooves?
“It’s nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you’re not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day. As far as when to start trying the different grooves, really from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out because what works for one part of the race may not work at another point. Basically, it’s as soon as you feel like you’re not where you need to be. If you feel like you’re slower than the pace you need to be running, you’re going to move up the racetrack and find a place that helps balance your racecar.”
Rush Truck Centers is back as a primary sponsor. How did that relationship come about?
“We’ve been doing business with Rush Truck Centers for years. It’s an established relationship that has a much higher profile thanks to Rush Truck Centers becoming a primary sponsor with our team. Rush Truck Centers keeps our trucks and transporters up and running, and you could argue those are the most important parts of our race team. Without them, our cars never get to the racetrack. The employees of Rush Truck Centers are as detail-oriented as we are, and they play a critical role in the success of our race team.”
How much did last Sunday’s fourth-place finish at Bristol help you and the team?
“It was something I needed, for sure. It wasn’t the day we wanted for our teammates, but if you come out of Bristol with a top-five, you’ve had a good day. Obviously, for Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and I to work together for the first time and four races into the season be able to get a top-five at Bristol – that’s pretty big for us. So it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
A big question at the beginning of the season was in regard to how SHR’s four drivers – you, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch – would work as a group. Now that we are nearly five races into the season, how is the group working together?
“We’re all equally competitive and that’s what makes this a great combination and a great set of drivers for an organization. I think what makes it so exciting is that we don’t have anyone that’s just kind of laid‑back and easy‑going. We’ve got four of us that push hard all the time. As a comparison, I’ve played pool with a lot of people, and I want to play guys that are better than me, so having four of us together that are people that push each other, it just makes all four of us better as we go. It’s an interesting pairing from that standpoint, and I don’t know how it could be a better grouping than what we’ve got.”
What is the biggest asset of SHR’s driver lineup?
“I think each of us can go to any racetrack and be competitive, but I think there are racetracks that Kevin (Harvick) really is that much better. There are tracks Kurt (Busch) is that way, and I think there are tracks that we’re that way. Danica (Patrick) has got strengths that we all can feed off of as well. I think our personalities lend to that. We all want to push to make each other better because we all understand if we make each other better, we as a group just continue to grow. I feel that that’s a huge asset for all of us right now.”