TONY STEWART Lookin' Sharp Entering Sharpie 500 KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 19, 2009) -- Tony Stewart is leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in points (3,500), top-fives (13) and top-10s (18). Needless to say, the driver of the No. 14 Office...
Lookin' Sharp Entering Sharpie 500
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 19, 2009) -- Tony Stewart is leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in points (3,500), top-fives (13) and top-10s (18). Needless to say, the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) is looking pretty sharp entering Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
By simply starting last Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Stewart secured his spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship three races before the 10-race Chase begins Sept. 20 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
While his competitors root and gouge their way around Bristol's .533-mile oval as they clamor to make the Chase, Stewart can focus on going all-out for the win. Beginning at Bristol, the two-time Sprint Cup champion essentially has three trophy dashes, for winning is all that really matters.
Each win carries a 10-point bonus into the Chase when the top-12 drivers have their respective point tallies reset to 5,000. Stewart currently has three point-paying wins, giving him 30 points. But Mark Martin has four victories, and provided he makes the Chase, the venerable driver will assume the point lead after the series' final regular-season race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
Stewart is intent on remaining atop the point standings. He first took the point lead 11 races ago at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and hasn't relinquished it since. Only two other times has Stewart ever led the points -- in 2002 after round 30 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and in 2005 after round 21 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both times he kept the lead straight through the end of the season to win the championship. This is the earliest Stewart has ever led the point standings, but he plans on history repeating itself by holding onto the lead right through the season finale Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The next stop on the road to Homestead is Bristol, and Stewart, who won the Sharpie 500 in August 2001, aims to lock up another win and the accompanying 10 bonus points.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Now that the Chase for the Championship seems to be taking shape, have you thought about a strategy to use during the final 10-race stretch to the finish?
"If you win races the points take care of themselves. Every week when we go to the track we're going to try to win the race, and if we can't win we'll finish as high as we can and get as many points as we can. Once we do that, the points will just have to be what they are."
With the pressure upon some drivers to make the cut for the Chase, will it make Bristol an even more aggressive race?
"I don't think it'll be any different. I still think when it comes to racing, guys are simply just racing. I think at the end of the day they look at the point standings, but for the most part, the whole time you're out there you're worried about winning the race or doing as well as you can. I really don't think people's mindsets will change."
Do the relatively new double-file restarts at Bristol concern you?
"No, not at all. Everybody's getting used to it. There's nowhere on the schedule the rest of the year where it's going to be an issue. I don't think it's been an issue yet. Yes, there are tracks we go to where you would rather be in one line versus the other, but at some point in the day, it's going to work in your favor and there's going to be some point in the day where it's going to work against you. Bristol's always been good about two-wide racing since they repaved it. The rest of the season, there's not a track on the circuit that I sit there and say, 'Oh man, I'm dreading these restarts here.'"
Some fans don't like the "new" Bristol since it's been repaved. What are your thoughts on Bristol now? Do you like two-wide racing there?
"Yeah, I love it. The people that don't like it are the same people that think wrestling is real. I don't know what they're wanting out of it. We can go get a bunch of rental cars and go punt each other out of the way if that's what they're wanting to see. I think the true race fans want to see side-by-side racing and want to be able to see the drivers make their way through the pack without having to wreck each other while they're doing it. Guys got wrecked that weren't even involved in what was going on a lot of times, because you'd go to get stopped and somebody behind you wouldn't get slowed down enough and get you picked up and turned around and your day was ruined. The good thing is you've got a lot more cars finishing the race. You've got a lot more cars finishing on the lead lap. And it's more exciting because of that. The driver's can pass now. It's not just sit there and follow the leader and when you finally run out of patience, you nudge the guy out of the way. You still can do that, but at least you can nudge a guy without wrecking him. I think from the competitor's standpoint, we like that a lot more knowing that if somebody has to check up in front of you and you get into the back of him, you're not necessarily going to wreck him because of it."
You wrapped up your spot in the Chase so early. Are you thinking about netting a third championship?
"It's way too early for that. There's so much that can happen still. I feel like we're in good shape to be a contender for it, but I'm not sure I feel like we're a dominant contender yet. It's hard because there are so many good teams. The 48, the 24, the 11 -- they've been really, really strong here in the last couple weeks. I think those are three guys that we're worried about the most right now. But if you look at the past, I don't think that you can count anybody out that's going to make the Chase. They're strong and there's a reason they got there. I don't think at any point you can really count anybody out until mathematically they're out."
Can you at least use these three races to try different setups and strategies that you might use for the Chase?
"We'll keep working hard. That's what we have to do. But when somebody asks if we're going to get off track and try things and get way out of the box, I'm not sure that we'll do a lot of that. We'll try different things, but I'm not sure we're going to totally get away from what got us to this point. I'm scared to get away from that. Sometimes you try different things and you get outside the box. When you try to come back, you never hit it exactly right. From our standpoint, we've got to do what got us to the dance and stay that course, but at the same time, not be afraid to try little things here and there to try to make sure we're doing everything we can to be as good as we can be for the Chase."
With points of no matter in these next three races, how do you approach them?
"We have the attitude we take it one week at a time. I think that's the way we've always done it. You just have to take it one week at a time, worry about where you're at that coming week. Now that we're done with Michigan, we'll focus on Bristol. Once we get out of there, we won't think about it anymore. We'll be focused on what we have to do at the next track.
"From my side, I won't be thinking about the week after that. Darian (Grubb, crew chief) does because he's planning ahead on what cars we're going to run where. There's a lot more logistics from his side. From my angle, Monday morning, I'm focused on where we're going the next week. I strictly keep it one race at a time. I don't know that you can sit here as a driver and say, 'Okay, two weeks from now we're going someplace that we're good' and start focusing on it already. You just got to take it wherever you're at that day, that weekend, do the best job you can from there, and on Monday, go to the next place."