Pocono: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Sinatra Not the Only Guy to Sing 'My Way' in Pocono KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 3, 2009) -- Frank Sinatra booked many singing gigs in the chalets and chateaus of the Pocono Mountains in his heyday, and his hit "My Way," was always a...

Sinatra Not the Only Guy to Sing 'My Way' in Pocono

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 3, 2009) -- Frank Sinatra booked many singing gigs in the chalets and chateaus of the Pocono Mountains in his heyday, and his hit "My Way," was always a part of his set. Eleven years since Ol' Blue Eyes' passing, Tony Stewart has picked up Sinatra's mantra of doing things, "My Way."

The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS is in his first year as a driver/owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but you'd never know it by looking at the box scores of the past 13 races or the championship point standings. With six top-five finishes and a series leading nine top-10s, Stewart sits atop the points by 46 markers over four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

Driver/owners aren't supposed to succeed, and neither are start-up race teams. Yet here's Stewart with Stewart-Haas Racing, the team he co-owns with Oxnard, Calif.-based Haas Automation, proving punditry wrong by doing it his way.

The last driver/owner to lead the point standings was Alan Kulwicki back on Nov. 15, 1992 at Atlanta Motor Speedway when he clinched the championship by 10 points over Bill Elliott. Five-hundred and fifty seven races later, Stewart is carrying the torch for driver/owners by leading the points.

It's a torch that burns brightly in Stewart's hands, for it's the earliest Stewart has ever led the points. Only two other times in his previous 10 years as a Sprint Cup driver has Stewart taken the point lead -- in 2002 after round 30 and in 2005 after round 21. In both seasons, Stewart went on to win the championship.

Those championships were secured during a 10-year tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing where Stewart was just a driver. He rose from the organization's junior pilot as a 28-year-old teammate to Bobby Labonte in 1999 to become the veteran driver, overseeing his 20-something teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, as a 37-year-old in 2008, his last year at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Here's Stewart in 2009, a long way from the comfy confines of Joe Gibbs Racing. And in doing it his way, he has a win in the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, is leading the championship standings, and has his teammate, Ryan Newman in the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS, fifth in points.

A little over two weeks removed from his 38th birthday, Stewart comes into round 14 of the 2009 Sprint Cup schedule at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway ready to build upon the momentum he's created through the first third of the season.

A winner of the Pocono 500 in June 2003, Stewart sees this year's event as a way to end another streak for driver/owners, for it's been 375 races since the last driver/owner won a Sprint Cup race -- Ricky Rudd on Sept. 27, 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

The No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet has been consistently quick all season long, and at the 2.5-mile triangle that is Pocono, expect a red blur of a racecar to again challenge the status quo, and for Stewart to dust off the record books once more by dusting the field.

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

Can you explain what it's like to be the point leader this early in the season?

"It's been a dream season for us up to this point, and you hope that you don't wake up tomorrow and all of a sudden realize that we're just getting ready to go to Daytona or something and it's all been a dream. I'm proud of our entire organization. To get caught up like we had to do through the winter with the personnel changes and updating equipment and everything, it just took a lot to get everything ready for Daytona, let alone to keep it ready and keep us going each week. I mean, we probably all lost bets that at this point we would be this far along. But it's a good bet to lose, I guess."

Alan Kulwicki was the last driver/owner to lead the point standings. Did you know much about him?

"Everybody respected Alan because he was an owner/driver and because of what he was able to accomplish. But for me, his success came before I was really a die-hard NASCAR guy. I was still Sprint Car and Midget racing at that point, and I wasn't able to keep up with all that he was doing because we were racing the same days Cup was racing. A the same time, it's pretty cool to have your organization mentioned with his organization."

Has the overall performance of Stewart-Haas Racing made focusing on the driving part of your job easier?

"It let's you focus on what you're doing. You're not worried about a different variable in the equation that you're trying to fix. It definitely gives you that much more flexibility and confidence knowing that all you have to do is go out and drive the racecar. I think from day one, we've had that confidence to begin with anyway, because Bobby Hutchens (director of competition) has done such a great job of coming in, taking over the owner role not only during the race weekends, but he's such a huge asset during the week of keeping everybody organized and making sure that we have the equipment that we need to go to the racetrack on the weekends. It's taken a lot of weight off of my shoulders to where all I've got to do is go out and do what I'm used to doing, and it's what I've done for 28 years, and that's go out and just drive the racecar."

You've credited much of the success you've had this season to the people at Stewart-Haas Racing. Is it simply about having the right people in the right positions?

"That's very true, more so now than ever. And it's not just in racing that that's important. It's that way in business. It's that way in your life, whether it's your personal life or your professional life. That's the way it is, period. You have to have good people surrounding you. I learned that from Joe Gibbs. You can have the best of everything, but if you don't have these people in the right places doing the right jobs and people that you trust, that you know you don't have to look over, that's how you become efficient. The bigger key is that you know you have to have some of that luck on your side and you know that preparation leads to that, but when it comes to these people and the rules packages that we have now -- the rules are so tight that really, it's the people that make the difference. Everybody has the same cars. Everybody has good cars. You're not going to be in the Sprint Cup Series and have bad cars and expect to run well. You look at a Childress, a Hendrick, a Roush, Yates, Gibbs, everybody involved -- these guys aren't building bad racecars. And what makes the difference with guys that are running in the top-five every week are the people that are building the cars, the people that are doing that extra little bit and going that extra mile on attention to detail. That is how important it is and that is what the deciding factor is. It's not drivers and it's not fancy racecars. It's the guys that are putting the cars together, making sure that every time they go to the racetrack, they're exactly right, 100 percent. Not, 'Well, it's good enough for this weekend where we're going.' If you have that attitude, you're running 25th to 30th."

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."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Alan Kulwicki
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing