TONY STEWART Las Vegas Lone Venue on "To-Do" List KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 25, 2009) -- Of all the venues that host both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the lone racetrack where Tony...
Las Vegas Lone Venue on "To-Do" List
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 25, 2009) -- Of all the venues that host both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the lone racetrack where Tony Stewart has yet to record a victory.
It's certainly not for a lack of effort, as the driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing has recorded four top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes while leading a total of 179 laps in his 10 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval.
But it was in last year's Nationwide Series race where Stewart appeared poised to cross Las Vegas off his "to-do" list.
Driving a No. 20 Old Spice Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Stewart led twice for 61 laps, and after his then JGR teammate Kyle Busch crashed out when a flat tire sent him into the wall, there was no other driver even close to matching the pace set by Stewart. But an accident with a lapped car on lap 137 of the 202-lap race sent Stewart hard into the SAFER Barrier along the outside retaining wall in turn three, ending his shot at visiting Las Vegas' victory lane. It was a disappointing end to what could've been history. After winning the season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and the very next race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., a third straight win would've made Stewart the first driver to sweep the first three races of the season.
Unfortunately, history wasn't made and Stewart remained winless when in the very next day's Sprint Cup race, a blown right-front tire on lap 108 ended his day early. It sent Stewart into the SAFER Barrier in turn four and returned him to the infield care center, where he was again treated and released.
Even though a win hasn't been earned at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stewart has in fact won a race on the track's grounds. It came in November 2002 at the Las Vegas Bullring, located just behind turns one and two of the 1.5-mile oval, where Stewart swept the USAC (United States Auto Club) Sprint/Midget doubleheader.
Coming off consecutive top-10 runs in his debut season as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart returns to Las Vegas ready to notch that much desired win -- on the big track and in the big-time, for Sprint Cup is the only race on Stewart's docket this weekend.
Sunday's Shelby 427 is the sole focus for Stewart and the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot team, and since the Sprint Cup Series only visits Las Vegas once a year, it's Stewart's one chance to put a checkmark in the win column next to the currently vacant box that reads "Las Vegas".
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
A lot of importance was placed on the California race, and it seems an equal amount of importance is placed on the upcoming race at Las Vegas. Why?
"These early races teach you very quickly where your program is compared to the competition. If your cars are good, you'll run well at California, Vegas, Atlanta, Texas and so on. Everybody wants to know where they stack up and shake up right now. If you can get off to a good start, it shows that your program is really where it needs to be. This is a huge week."
You're one of only three drivers who have finished in the top-10 in the first two races of the season -- the others being Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch. Considering you've accomplished that feat with what is essentially a new team, are you impressed with where Stewart-Haas Racing is this early in the season?
"To come out of California, which is not one of my best tracks, with another top-10, I think that's a pretty strong statement. This is still a very young team in terms of us working together. To have the results we've had so far is very encouraging. There's still a lot of racing in front of us, but it's important to get off to a good start. So far, we've done that, but we need to keep doing it this weekend at Las Vegas. We've been solid for two straight weeks. Now, our focus is on Las Vegas, and making sure we stay strong for three straight weeks."
How is Las Vegas Motor Speedway different from Auto Club Speedway (nee California Speedway), site of last week's Sprint Cup race?
"The corners are tighter. It's tighter coming off turn four and tighter going into turn one than it is at California. That's why the handling is so important there. Because the corners are tighter, it makes it really important that the Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet rolls through there free -- not tight or loose. It's a real important track in terms of balance."
Your USAC teams race Wednesday night at The Dirt Track, and then your World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series teams race Thursday night at The Dirt Track. It's not often when the schedules of your open-wheel teams coincide with your Sprint Cup schedule. Are you looking forward to a busy week as an owner and a driver?
"Oh, yeah. It's really a cool weekend because we get to watch the USAC guys on Wednesday and then the Outlaw guys on Thursday, so I get to see both sides of my open-wheel teams run two days in a row, and then I get to play the rest of the weekend. So I'm excited about that. That's what makes going to Talladega (Ala.) and Charlotte (N.C.) and some of these other places so much fun is that we do get to see our other programs running. We'll get to see all of our Chevy teams out there and that will be fun."
While you've been an owner of USAC and World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series teams for nearly a decade, what's it been like owning your own Sprint Cup team?
"We've got guys that have come from five different organizations here that are running this organization with us. I don't think you necessarily tell them this is exactly how it has to be done. I think we've tried to collectively take what we thought were the best ideas from all five organizations and try to utilize them to make ourselves even better. So there's a lot of trial and error in all the organizations we've been a part of to get them where they are. Having that knowledge from the five of us, there are things that we've seen that we liked, and there are things that we didn't like. For all five of us to sit down and talk about that, that's really helped us get a direction of how we at least wanted to start. We didn't expect it to be perfect right off the bat, and we haven't been, but you start with what you think is the best way to do things, and as you go, you make adjustments as you need to. To date right now, I feel like we've got a really good direction of how we do things."
(Stewart came from Joe Gibbs Racing. Darian Grubb, Stewart's crew chief, came from Hendrick Motorsports. Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate, came from Penske Championship Racing. Tony Gibson, Newman's crew chief, came from Dale Earnhardt Inc. And Bobby Hutchens, director of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing, came from Richard Childress Racing. -- Ed.)
Stewart-Haas Racing receives its engines from Hendrick Motorsports. All of the top teams have an in-house engine program. Do you ever envision creating an in-house engine program at Stewart-Haas Racing?
"I don't see us making plans to do that. You look at Hendrick's engine program, and I don't think they're lacking anything there. The last three years have proven that. I think you look at past experiences and you look at Darrell Waltrip's experiences as a car owner, and he'll be the first one to tell you that was the mistake he made was going from a program like that, which kept him where he needed to be, to thinking he could make it better by starting his own program. That actually led to the end of it. We've got a great partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, and I don't see us straying off from their program and their engines. That's part of the reason why Ryan (Newman) and I are so excited to be here. The opportunity to work with those guys and our input on top of Jeff's (Gordon) and Jimmie's (Johnson) and Dale's (Earnhardt Jr.) and Mark's (Martin) input that they have from their program. Being able to have our two cents worth in this program makes it better for all six of us."