Michigan II: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Looking for Mo' Points Outside Motown KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 12, 2009) -- By simply starting Sunday's CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Tony Stewart will clinch a spot in the 12-driver Chase for the ...

TONY STEWART
Looking for Mo' Points Outside Motown

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 12, 2009) -- By simply starting Sunday's CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Tony Stewart will clinch a spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship. The pilot of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing is the championship point leader by 260 markers over second-place Jimmie Johnson and 756 points over 13th-place Kyle Busch.

But beyond clinching a spot in the Chase, being the point leader now won't mean much come Sept. 20 when round one of the Chase commences at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. That's because the top-12 drivers in points all have their respective point tallies reset to 5,000. And for those who scored wins during the 26-race lead-up to the Chase, they get 10 bonus points for each race they've won.

While that's good news for Stewart, who has 30 bonus points thanks to wins at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International on Monday, it's even better news for Mark Martin, winner of four races so far this season, and in turn, 40 bonus points.

In fact, Stewart would be tied for second in the reset Chase standings because Jimmie Johnson also has three victories. And if Busch, who is 58 points outside the top-12, muscles his way back into the Chase in the next four races, he'll join Stewart and Johnson in a three-way tie for second, as he too has three wins.

With quite literally nothing to lose, wins are all that Stewart and his Darian Grubb-led No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice team are chasing. There is no trophy and no monetary incentive to lead the standings after the final race of the regular season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. You get bragging rights, but that's all.

You need wins, for wins are the currency of the Chase. So as the series rolls into the tiny hamlet of Brooklyn, Mich. -- about an hour west of Detroit -- Stewart is intent on winning. Victory outside Motown means mo' points for the Chase, and no one knows this better than Stewart.

Stewart has two Michigan victories -- one in Sprint Cup (June 2000) and one in IROC (June 2001). And of his 36 career Sprint Cup wins, 17 have come in the last four months of the series' 10-month season. Seven of those triumphs have come back-to-back, and with Stewart's win in Monday's rain-postponed Heluva Good! at The Glen, the 11th year Sprint Cup driver enters Michigan looking to make it eight back-to-back victories, and in the process, secure the No. 1 spot in the Chase so the transition from the regular season to the post-season is seamless.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Since you have such a commanding point lead and because you're assured of a spot in the Chase, has your preparation for these last four races changed any?

"The difference now is that the risk versus reward of taking a chance to win to get those 10 bonus points is none. No matter what, we're in, so winning is really all that matters. We can take more chances than some other teams, but that's really the only difference. We're not going to change what we've been doing to get to this point. What we've been doing in the shop to get ready for the race and what we've been doing at the track, we're not going to change it because it's been working. So from that side, you do the same things to try and win the race each week. You look at the strategy of the race and some guys are fighting to stay in the top-12 or the top-35 -- our challenge is a little different. Our challenge is to try to get those 10 bonus points, so our strategy allows us to take some more calculated risks and have the opportunity to take more chances to try and win more races."

How do you keep doing what got you to this point without getting complacent?

"You want to keep doing what you're doing. Obviously, it's hard to imagine that you're going to have everything go exactly your way for 38 weeks. We had Vegas where we had a loose wheel and ended up 26th. We've had days that didn't exactly go right. The good thing is we've had so many days that have gone right, and it's kind of overshadowed that. We know what the reality is. We know there are only a certain number of variables that we can control and there are a lot of variables that we can't control. All we can do is focus on those variables that we can control, and we'll cross the bridge if and when something else happens. We'll deal with it the best we can. In the meantime, when you're having success like this and you're having consistent runs, you focus on doing what has gotten you to this point."

While the priority is winning in these next four races, how much are you using these next four races as preparation for the Chase?

"You're always working to make sure you're good for those last 10 weeks. We're no different. We've tried things during practice just to see if it gives us a direction that we might like. That's the great thing about having the amount of time that we do have before the Chase. It's not so much that it feels like a test day, but it's enough that you feel like you can run through a wide range of changes before you have to lock-in on one direction."

Since there is no testing at NASCAR venues, how much are you using these race weekends as tests?

"For us on this Office Depot/Old Spice team, it's just a matter of doing our homework to try to maintain the advantage we feel we've gotten and having our cars consistent and good each week. In an hour-and-a-half of practice on Friday, you can start in race trim to get a direction for where you want to be for the two practices on Saturday before you go into qualifying trim. That's why you've got to plan your practice time wisely and figure out exactly what you want to do and how you want to use that practice time."

As a driver/owner who took the point lead and scored two wins before the halfway point of the season, how do you feel about your team now as it gears up for the Chase?

"The team has been very consistent, and that's something I'm extremely proud of. I would trade in the couple of wins for the consistency right now, with the exception of the 10 bonus points, of course. As far as having a couple more trophies on the wall but having more sporadic finishes, I would gladly take consistent top-fives over wins, because if you're in the top-five week in and week out, the wins will come and so will the points. I'm really proud of our guys. I don't know how I could ask for any more. I'd love to have four wins like Mark (Martin) has, but other than that I'm extremely satisfied with what we've done."

Was there much of an adjustment to becoming a driver/owner or were you able to find your stride fairly easily?

"I really believe that it seemed like once we went to Daytona and got through Speedweeks, we clicked right away and much quicker than any of us would've predicted. We thought it might take half the season before we kind of started hitting our stride. To run third in the Shootout and second in our qualifying race and eighth in the 500, those were three really important races to us from the communications side. Then we go to California and finish eighth. You get away from the superspeedway side there, and it just seemed like everywhere we went, our communication was really good and comfortable. It has felt comfortable from day one, and it's just kind of been fun."

While some have lauded your accomplishments this year, others have discounted it a bit by saying Stewart-Haas Racing is a satellite team of Hendrick Motorsports, since you do get engines, chassis and technical support from them. What are your thoughts on that?

"I can tell you from being in the shop with my guys that they don't care. They say, 'Look at the point standings right now.' They're happy with it. You can call it what you want. We get technical support and we get our engines and chassis from Hendrick and we share information back and forth. I don't think it matters to any of us what we're called. Hopefully at the end of the year they call us champions."

Is it the people who have made Stewart-Haas Racing so successful?

"Oh, yeah. We have a lot of great people. You can be handed the best equipment and you can be handed the best driver, but if you don't have good people to work with that equipment and good people to make competition decisions and good people to make business decisions, it all falls apart. So you have to have that foundation, and that starts with really good people."

Where does Michigan rank in terms of all the 1.5- to 2-mile D-shaped ovals that are on the Sprint Cup circuit?

"It's so wide and there are so many lines that you can run -- that's what makes Michigan fun for drivers. The drivers can really help themselves out if they don't have a car that's working right. You can literally race from the white line on the apron all the way to the wall. That's the groove. You can move around on the racetrack and find a spot that helps your car do what you need it to do. You have to figure out how to gauge your momentum and know where you want to be on that racetrack when you enter those corners. Depending on how your car is driving, you can move around on the racetrack and help yourself. Michigan's layout gives the drivers the flexibility to really make a difference in their car's handling, and that's what makes Michigan such a fun racetrack."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Hendrick Motorsports