TONY STEWART Steadfast at Homestead KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Nov. 17, 2009) -- What do Al Davis, former president George W. Bush and Vice Lombardi have in common? All have provided a famous quote that is appropriate to Tony Stewart's charge in ...
Steadfast at Homestead
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Nov. 17, 2009) -- What do Al Davis, former president George W. Bush and Vice Lombardi have in common? All have provided a famous quote that is appropriate to Tony Stewart's charge in Sunday's season-ending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
For Davis, mercurial owner of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, his motto is "Just win, baby!"
President Bush told us all to "remain steadfast and resolute."
And the legendary Lombardi, former coach of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and whose name graces the Super Bowl trophy, famously said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, is out of championship contention. His only real goal, and care for that matter, is ending the 2009 season with a win. It's a mindset that would play well with Davis and Lombardi, and for our 43rd president of these United States, he would be proud to know that Stewart's mindset hasn't changed since the season-opening Daytona 500 nine months ago.
Stewart is already a race winner in 2009, in fact, a multiple race winner. He won the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in May at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., before rattling off point-paying victories in June at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, in July at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, in August at the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course and in October at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. Along the way, he's finished second four times and collected 15 top-fives and 23 top-10s in his inaugural season as a driver/owner.
But if his end result isn't a win, Stewart isn't all that impressed, even if he is the first driver/owner to win a race since Ricky Rudd on Sept. 27, 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Like a master craftsman who would never utter the phrase, "That's good enough," you won't hear Stewart, a two-time Sprint Cup champion (2002 and 2005), say at the end of Sunday's season finale that he was "tickled to death just to be in the top-10."
Stewart wants to win, plain and simple. And if the only remaining option is a race win, then Stewart will remain steadfast in that pursuit at Homestead.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is your mindset leading into Homestead ?
"We're just going out there to try and win the race. That's all we can do. We're not in a championship battle, but we're still in a battle for points. We still have to go out and do the best we can to get as many points as we can."
(Currently fifth in points, Stewart can climb to as high as third or drop to as low as ninth. -- Ed.)
While you're not in championship contention, do you take solace in knowing how well your debut season was as a driver/owner?
"I think it's hard to be disappointed, no matter where we end up in the points. Just by getting two cars in the Chase and winning the races we've won this year exceeded more than many could've anticipated, and what we could've anticipated. We knew on paper that it was possible, but the reality of it was going there and competing against great race teams every week. To be able to accomplish this goal has been an awesome year for us. It's still no different than it was when everybody talked to us after Richmond about losing a 200-point lead or whatever it was. We knew that when we took the point lead. We knew that's what the situation was. We're not disappointed because of that. It just shows that we still have work to do. We were able to exceed our expectations for the year, but at the same time, we won't stop at that. We'll keep pushing to be better and to try to be where the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) team, the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) team and the No. 5 (Mark Martin) teams are, and all these great race teams that we're competing against and that we're racing for points. Those are the guys that we want to try to figure out of how to be better and how to win more races so that we can put ourselves in position to win next year."
Stewart-Haas Racing gets its engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports, yet that's the same team you spent much of the year battling for the championship. Were you surprised at how well the exchange of information went between the two organizations?
"Not really. That was part of what weighed into my decision to do what we're doing here, and that's knowing that we have a good engine package and a good chassis package that's proven. The key to that is making sure that the information is going both directions. It's not one-way information from them to us or just us to them. It's making sure that we keep that constant flow of information and that's what is helping all of us.
"It's been consistent from day one. As soon as we made the commitment that this was what we were going to do, and as soon as Darian Grubb (crew chief, No. 14 team) came on board, that was the biggest key in making sure that it was a smooth transition. Darian knows the system and the people involved, and I think with that came the trust from their side knowing they had somebody that they could trust on our side that had been at Hendrick Motorsports for a long time and is passionate about Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing."
Knowing the pressure that comes with being in championship contention entering Homestead, will you enjoy the last race of the season simply because there is no pressure?
"Trust me, I'd much rather have the pressure of being the point leader, or even remotely close to the point leader. But being where we are does take a little bit of that edge off. Still, I'd much rather be right there in the middle of the championship knowing that we've got a shot of winning it. Pressure is a part of this business, and we're all used to it by now."
When you won the second of your two championships in 2005, what did you do the week leading into the last race of the season at Homestead when the title was on the line?
"I went home. My favorite thing to do is to go home and be around my friends and my property. I did that until I absolutely had to leave to go to Florida. The more relaxed you are going into this weekend, the better off you'll be."
Were you better prepared to clinch the championship in 2005 at Homestead because of your experience when you ran for your first championship in 2002?
"We were so busy the first time, because we were never in that position. Granted, there wasn't a Chase then. There were only about three or four of us at that time that were even a factor. Then when the Chase came around, obviously, it was a little different deal, because there were still four or five of us mathematically eligible for it. It's just one of those situations where what we learned from previous championships in the IRL and USAC and all of these other things, you can mentally drain yourself before you even get to that point. The way to combat that is to go out and do your favorite things and go have fun and enjoy the time that you have home before you have to go."
Have your almost 11 years of Sprint Cup experience allowed you to know when to push for position and when to settle for what you have?
"I'm not sure when I actually realized all that. I think it's just common sense to know that if you make a mistake and don't finish, it's worse than losing one or two spots because you just don't have the car that's going to get it done that day. It's just something that's always made sense to us. If you wreck the car trying to maintain a spot or get a spot that you think you need, it's risk versus reward. The risk outweighs the reward at that point. A lot of times, it's just easier to let one spot go if you have to, and either wait for the next pit stop or realize that's just all we have for that day."
Explain a lap around Homestead.
"You go off into turn one, and when you get into the banking, you lift. If your car is good, you can go and not use any brake, or very, very little brake. You stay one lane off the bottom, past the transition -- it's a little less banking on the lower level toward the apron -- so you stay one level above that. As soon as your car settles in you can really just mash right back in the gas and just ride that second level around down onto the backstretch. And then you do exactly the same thing going into turn three. A lot of times in turn three, because of the wind direction there, you can actually go into the corner a lot harder and a lot further, actually turning into the corner before you get off the gas. And it's the same thing, once that car settles in, you get on the gas and ride it around to the frontstretch. It's a pretty smooth racetrack."