Tony Stewart: flat-track attack
KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (July 31, 2013) – To attack is to take action with purpose and vigor, and it perfectly describes Tony Stewart’s plan for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway where he will pilot the No. 14 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in the GoBowling.com 400.
With six races remaining before the start of the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Stewart and Co. find themselves in control of the wild-card race thanks to their June 2 victory at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and their 11th-place point standing. But giving them even more control of their championship aspirations would be to ascend into the top-10 points, for those drivers among the top-10 are locked into the 10-race Chase following the Sept. 7 cutoff race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman are the only drivers between 11th and 20th in points with a victory. Since Stewart and Truex Jr., sit 11th and 12th, respectively, in the standings, they hold the first and second wild-card spots.
Pocono is a relatively flat track, but Stewart’s statistics at the quirky, 2.5-mile triangle are anything but flat. In 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono, Stewart has two poles, two wins, eight top-threes, 12 top-fives, 21 top-10s and a total of 156 laps led. He has finished among the top-10 in 13 of his last 17 races at Pocono, and in his last three trips to Pocono, he’s finished among the top-five.
Stewart last visited Pocono on June 9. He started 19th after rain washed out qualifying and the 43-car field was set by owner points. One-hundred-and-sixty laps later, Stewart crossed the stripe in fourth. A little more than a month later at another flat track – New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon – Stewart started 16th and drove his way to the front, leading 84 laps. He entered the final lap in second place, but his fuel cell ran dry before he could take the checkered flag. The resulting 26th-place finish was not indicative of the team’s performance. And last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – a vast 2.5-mile oval with scant amounts of banking – Stewart qualified fifth and finished fourth.
With the Sprint Cup Series’ return to Pocono, it’s another opportunity for Stewart and the No. 14 team to take advantage of their flat-track prowess. Their fourth-place runs at Pocono in June and Indy last Sunday indicate another strong performance is in store for the team’s return to Pocono.
Stewart has regularly transferred success between Indy and Pocono, scoring back-to-back top-10 finishes at the two tracks on seven different occasions (1999, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012). When Stewart won at Indianapolis in 2005 and 2007, he finished among the top-10 in three of the four Pocono races those two years. (His lone finish outside the top-10 was 29th in June 2005, when three flat tires doomed Stewart’s chances.)
Buoyed by a strong run at Indy that was bolstered by SHR teammate Newman’s even stronger run – a victory in the 20th annual Brickyard 400 – Stewart intends for his flat-track attack to keep on rolling at Pocono, where his purpose is making the Chase and vigorously pursuing a fourth Sprint Cup championship.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Indianapolis seems like it would be a good indicator of how a team will perform at Pocono, as both tracks have long straightaways and flat corners. Is that true?
“It’s harder to pass at the Brickyard than it is at Pocono. There’s a fair amount of room going into (turn) one at Pocono, and you can run two-wide there and you can go two-wide in (turn) three at the beginning of a run. But it’s pretty tough to run two-wide through the corners at Indy. Still, a good run at Indy shows your flat track program is pretty good.”
How big was Newman’s win last week at Indianapolis for SHR?
“That’s the great thing – seeing everybody from the 10 team excited, from the 14 team excited – when we win, we all win. No matter where those guys came from within the organization, we still win as a team. That’s what I’m proud of. For those guys to be able to go from sitting behind laptops a lot in the shop, being in aero rooms, seven-post rigs, being on the road and to be kissing the bricks, that’s a pretty strong statement.”
You’ve been running well in the last several races. What does this mean for your championship aspirations?
“Indy was obviously a big step. Our teammates are running really well, too. I think we still have some work to do, but Ryan’s win last week is proof that we can do it – that our organization can do it. Even though we ran fourth at Indianapolis, it’s a confidence boost for us on the No. 14 team as well. We know we have the tools in place to accomplish the goal. It’s just a matter of getting there.”
You had a rough start to the year, where 10 races into the season you were 22nd in points. Does it seem like a distant memory? “Everywhere we’ve tested, we’ve been able to make really big gains. We tested at Dover. We tested at Pocono, and both Ryan and I ran great there in June. It just seems like everywhere we’ve had a test so far we’ve been able to make gains. It shows how important those tests are. I don’t want NASCAR to add any more of them because I don’t have any more time, but it has helped. We did have a slow start to our season. It’s frustrating knowing there are teams we outperform week in and week out that we were getting beat by, but we do feel like we’ve turned a corner, and we’re proud of that.”
How much has Pocono changed since the repaving there last year?
“It’s getting better. The good thing is that it’s lost just enough grip to where it’s making it easier to lay rubber in the racetrack now and a lot easier to see it. The track is in good shape. You always fight water pumping up through the track there, so other than that it was actually pretty perfect there in June.”
Winning by maximizing fuel mileage has been a theme at Pocono. Your win at Pocono four years ago came in a fuel-mileage race. Can you explain what you did to make sure you had enough fuel to go the distance while many of your competitors did not?
“I’ve lost a lot more races like that than I’ve won. It was between Carl (Edwards) and me. We were the strongest two cars at the end of the race and we were able to get the track position we needed. Our guys did a great job of getting us out of the pits in the lead and that gave us the opportunity to make Carl push harder in the beginning to try and get the lead. Once he went into that fuel conservation mode, we had to follow suit. To be in a situation where your speed is dictated off the guy behind you and not off of what you can do, it’s a different style of racing. It’s hard. It’s just as hard, if not tougher, than trying to run 100 percent.”