New Hampshire International Speedway
A Reverse Revolution
The American Revolution was a result of 13 colonies banding together to break free of the British Empire to become the United States of America. New England was a primary stage for many of the battles from 1775 to 1783 as patriots fought for their independence, with one of the initial salvos taking place near Portsmouth, N.H., in December 1774 when the “Sons of Liberty” raided Fort William and Mary and captured 15 cannons and more than five tons of gunpowder.
New England will again be the site of another revolution when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into the region for Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. There, Tony Stewart plans a reverse revolution as he looks to join the 12-driver Chase for the Championship.
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing is currently 11th in points and winless 18 rounds into the 36-race Sprint Cup season. With only eight races remaining before the Chase field is set for the final 10-race run toward the championship, Stewart has a tenuous hold on his place in the Chase. That’s because only the top-10 drivers in points are assured of making the Chase after round 26 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The 11th- and 12th-place spots are “wild cards” reserved for the two drivers outside the top-10 but within the top-20 in points who have the most wins.
Entering New Hampshire, David Ragan, winner of the July 2 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, would secure the 11th Chase spot, for he’s the lone driver between 11th and 20th in points with a win. Lurking three points out of the top-20 is Brad Keselowski, winner of the June 5 Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. A strong run by Keselowski in these last eight races, or a win by Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger, Mark Martin or Joey Logano – all of whom are between 11th and 20th in points – would kick Stewart out of the Chase.
Unlike the colonials of the late 18th century who wanted to break away from their ruler, Stewart wants to break into the ruling body of the season’s last 10 races. The Chase might as well be an empire, for it’s all anyone talks about in the lead-up to the season finale Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hence, Stewart’s desire for a reverse revolution in the region where the American Revolution began.
New Hampshire is perhaps the best venue for Stewart to jumpstart his Chase chances with a victory. He has four wins at the 1.058-mile oval – two in Sprint Cup (July 2000 and July 2005) and one each in NASCAR Nationwide Series (2008) and IZOD IndyCar Series (1998) competition. In Sprint Cup alone, Stewart has a pole, eight top-threes, 12 top-fives and 14 top-10s in 24 career starts to augment his two victories. He’s also led a total of 1,130 laps in Sprint Cup competition, second only to Jeff Gordon’s mark of 1,207 laps led. Stewart and Gordon are the only drivers to lead more than 800 laps at New Hampshire.
More Sprint Cup wins at New Hampshire should be on Stewart’s resume. Rain in the June 2008 and June 2009 Sprint Cup races jettisoned probable victories into 13th- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, as each race was cut short, scuttling Stewart’s strategy and allowing others to win on fuel mileage. And one of the most heartbreaking losses of Stewart’s career came in his most recent race at New Hampshire last September, where after leading three times for 100 laps, Stewart ran out of fuel on the final turn of the final lap while leading. Instead of grabbing his 40th career Sprint Cup victory, he coasted across the finish line 24th.
The woulda, shoulda, couldas of years past are in Stewart’s rearview mirror. The two-time Sprint Cup champion (2002 and 2005) only looks ahead, and his sights are set on raiding the Sprint Cup outpost in New Hampshire just as the “Sons of Liberty” did more than two centuries ago.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Explain a lap around New Hampshire.
“It’s a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you’ve got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too, so it’s hard to get up off the corners. Then you’ve got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it’s hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again.”
Is New Hampshire a good place to race?
“Obviously, I like it because I’ve had success there. But at the same time, it’s a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it’s hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you’ve got a good car, it’s always fun to race.”
While you’ve won at New Hampshire, you’ve also had races where you’ve struggled. How can one race weekend turn out great and another turn into one you’d rather forget?
“If you miss on something it can be a miserable day. It seems like you don’t see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That’s what makes a day there miserable when you miss. It’s just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front.”
Because New Hampshire is a difficult racetrack, are some drivers beat before they even make a practice lap because they have a negative outlook about the racetrack?
“It certainly doesn’t help if someone has a bad attitude going in there. It kind of puts a strike against you, but I’m not going to say that you’re already beat. There are tracks that I’ve been to that weren’t my favorite tracks, but I still found a way to win there. You’ve just got to stay focused and work hard to find what it takes to be good.”
You finished second in last year’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301, but you had to come from as deep as 33rd in the 43-car field to do it. How’d you get into such a hole and how did you climb out of it?
“It was a long day. We started 25th and got in the top-10 on our first run, but when we came in to pit, we didn’t get enough fuel in the car. So, it put us 30-something laps out of our fuel window. The next two runs went green all the way, which made us have to short pit, which also meant on our next run we had to stay out on older tires longer than everybody else. When you pit early like that, you’re having to catch all of these lapped cars and cars that are slower than you and you just burn your tires off getting through there to make up some of the time that you’re losing because you’re a lap down. We just fought all day, constantly having to work our way from the back to the front.”
You endured another tough day when you returned to New Hampshire last September and you had the car to beat only to lose the race on the last lap of the last turn when you ran out of fuel and Clint Bowyer, who had pretty much resigned himself to finishing second, won. How tough was that loss?
“I wasn’t happy, that’s for sure, but we went down swinging. It’s hard to lose one that way, but at the same time, it was fun racing Clint like that. He did a good job of saving fuel and I didn’t do a good job. It was a tough way to start the Chase, that’s for sure. I would’ve settled for second. If you know exactly how much gas you have, it would be different, but you never know. It’s part of the sport, always has been. It’s what makes it exciting when you never know until the last lap what’s going to happen.”
By: stewart-haas racing