TONY STEWART Swaggerin' Back to Pocono KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (July 28, 2009) -- Tony Stewart already had plenty of reason to carry a bit of swagger into Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, site of Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup ...
Swaggerin' Back to Pocono
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (July 28, 2009) -- Tony Stewart already had plenty of reason to carry a bit of swagger into Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, site of Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS returns to the venerable and quirky 2.5-mile triangle as the track's most recent race winner and as the leader in the Sprint Cup championship point standings. But in case anyone forgot about Stewart's victory in the series' June visit to Pocono, where he led twice for 39 laps -- including the final 37 -- to take his first point-paying win as a driver/owner, as well as his commanding 192-point lead in the championship point race, Stewart brings an emphatic reminder that his swagger is well-earned.
His typically fire engine red Chevy Impala is now candy apple red for this weekend's race at Pocono as it carries an Old Spice Swagger paint scheme highlighting the brand's scented line of men's anti-perspirant/deodorant, body wash and body spray. Not coincidentally, Swagger smells a lot like victory, a feat Stewart will attempt to duplicate in the series' return visit to Pocono.
His win in the June race was his second career Sprint Cup win at Pocono. Stewart first found victory lane after successfully negotiating 500 miles around the Tricky Triangle in June 2003.
When Stewart isn't winning at Pocono, he's knocking down championship-caliber finishes. In 21 career Sprint Cup starts there, Stewart has seven top-fives and 15 top-10s. And in his last eight Pocono races, Stewart has finished seventh or better, a swaggeringly impressive achievement considering that 500 miles at Pocono provides a daunting test of man and machine, for races easily nudge the four-hour mark.
Yet there Stewart is after running 200 laps at nearly 200 mph no worse for wear. He simply wipes his brow with a strategically placed Old Spice towel, takes a swig of ice-cold Coca-Cola, dons a sponsor hat and a pair of Oakley sunglasses and describes his day at the office. He's cool, even in the dog days of summer.
That's swagger, and Stewart is bringing a can of it -- literally and figuratively -- back to Pocono.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot "Swagger" Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Is there one particular reason why you've been able to achieve the kind of success you've had this year, or is it a collection of a lot of little reasons?
"I think it's a collection, in all honesty. There are so many factors and so many variables that are part of the equation to make a team either good or bad. I just think we have really good chemistry with the people that we have in place, with Bobby Hutchens (director of competition) and Darian Grubb (crew chief, No. 14 team), Ryan Newman (driver, No. 39 team of Stewart-Haas Racing) and Tony Gibson (crew chief, No. 39 team) and our entire staff at Stewart-Haas. I think everybody has come in with a fresh attitude and a very open mind. That's something that a lot of times when you take people from different organizations, they come in with a mindset that this is how things have to be done, but that's one thing that everybody was really good about coming into this season was having an open mind about everything and not saying this is how it has to be done. We all sit and talk about things and we spend a lot of time on Mondays in our competition meetings. The good thing is that everybody will bring ideas that they know, but they know that we're very open to just about everything as far as different ideas, and then we all decipher what we think is the best way to go about things. I think that's what has really made us successful this year is the group of people we have in place."
You're leading the points and you have two point-paying wins already this year. Now that we're past the halfway mark of the season and with only six races remaining before the Chase for the Championship begins, what does Stewart-Haas Racing have to do to maintain the performance that got it to this point?
"You always think you can do better. I can do better behind the steering wheel. There are always things and variables that you think you can make better, and that's what you strive for every week. I've been happy with our performance. I'm not sure exactly what I was looking for when it came to putting this group of people together. Obviously, you look at their credentials on paper and you say this is somebody that I want to meet with. But I think it's more that you just have to sit with them and see how your personalities match and just listen to them talk. You listen to their ideas and thoughts and their passion. If you see their talent on paper is what you want, then at the same time see their passion when you meet with them and talk with them, and you get along with them well, then it seems like a good fit. It's kind of a two-phased deal. It has to make sense on paper first before you meet them, and once you meet them, you hope their personalities are a right fit for the organization."
Does the success you've had during the first half of the season change your outlook for the second half of the season?
"Historically, we've always been better the last half of the season, and the second third and last third of the season in particular. This is the best start we've ever had to a season in the Cup Series. I don't know what's different about it. I don't know what's changed. I just know that I'm happy with the performance up to this point, and we just hope that what we've done up to this point we can continue to do during the last 10-week stretch so that we have a shot at winning the championship."
Your win at Pocono back in June came in a fuel mileage race. Can you explain what you did to make sure you had enough fuel to go the distance while many of your competitors did not?
"I've lost a lot more races like that than I've won. It was between Carl (Edwards) and I. We were the strongest two cars at the end of the race and we were able to get the track position we needed. Our guys did a great job of getting us out of the pits in the lead and that gave us the opportunity to make Carl push harder in the beginning to get the lead. Once he went into that fuel conservation mode, we had to follow suit. To be in a situation where your speed is dictated off the guy behind you and not off of what you can do, it's a different style of racing. It's hard. It's just as hard, if not tougher, than trying to run 100 percent."
That win at Pocono in June was the first point-paying victory for Stewart-Haas Racing. Now that you're going back to the scene of that impressive "first," can you reflect on the impact it made within your organization?
"I knew it was big when we were there in victory lane, obviously. Getting the first one at Charlotte (the non-points Sprint All-Star Challenge) was a huge accomplishment for the organization, but that first official points win was big, too. The feeling was the same as it was in Charlotte, but it was different because you knew it was a points race. It just means a lot. It means so much to a lot of people because it's been a long road to get this organization to where it is. Everybody put a lot of hard work into getting this program where it's at, so it was nice to get to victory lane for a points race."
Explain a lap around Pocono.
"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three -- you drive it in kind of deep and then try to float the car through the corner. You go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn and it's basically one lane. It's flat and very line-sensitive. You've got to make sure you're right on your marks every lap when you go through there. Then you've got a short chute into turn three. It's a big, long corner and it too is very line-sensitive. Add the fact that we've got a straightaway that's three-quarters of a mile long after that, and it's very important that you get through the last corner well. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you're not bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make."
From a driver's standpoint, what's your biggest challenge at Pocono?
"All three corners are different -- that's the most challenging part. It seems like you can always get your car good in two of the three corners, but the guys who are contending for the win are the guys who can get their car good for all three corners, which is very hard to do. It seems like if we can get our car to go through the tunnel turn well, then we're normally able to get it to go through the rest of the racetrack well. The tunnel turn seems to be our toughest turn on the racetrack. Getting through turn two and the last corner of the racetrack that's flat, long and sweeping -- those seem to be the toughest two corners to get through. And if you're a little bit off, you're a bunch off. If there's a guy who can get all three of those corners right, then that's the guy who's going to win the race."