TONY STEWART Being a Centrist Proves Successful in Sonoma KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 16, 2009) -- Being a centrist pays dividends in politics, as you can court votes from the left and the right. And it helps to be a centrist in the NASCAR Sprint...
Being a Centrist Proves Successful in Sonoma
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 16, 2009) -- Being a centrist pays dividends in politics, as you can court votes from the left and the right. And it helps to be a centrist in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series too, for having the proper balance between the left and the right can also prove beneficial, at least when the series visits the two road course venues on its 36-race schedule.
Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., is the first road course stop on the tour, and it plays host to this weekend's Toyota/SaveMart 350k. The other road course is Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, which welcomes the Sprint Cup Series in early August.
Both tracks force drivers to turn left and right, and both have suited Tony Stewart well. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing has scored six of his 34 career Sprint Cup wins on road courses -- two at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen.
Stewart's middle of the road balance has made him king of the road, for in addition to his six wins, the two-time Sprint Cup champion has nine top-twos, 14 top-10s and has led a total of 257 laps in 20 career road course starts. In fact, Stewart has only two finishes lower than 15th -- 26th at Watkins Glen in 2001 and 28th at Sonoma in 2006 -- to give him an average road course finish of eighth.
At Sonoma alone, Stewart's two wins (2001 and 2005) are augmented by one pole (2002), three top-threes and six top-10s, and his average finish at the 10-turn, 1.99-mile track is 10th.
Finishing up front has come in large part from Stewart starting up front. In his 20 road course races, Stewart has started within the first two rows nine times, and he has qualified in the top-10 13 times.
Proving the racing adage true of, "To finish first, you must first finish," Stewart has never recorded a DNF (Did Not Finish) in any of his road course starts and has a lap completion rate of 100 percent.
And Stewart's road course success isn't limited to Sprint Cup. Outside of NASCAR's elite series, Stewart scored a road course win in IROC. He won Round 3 of IROC XXX on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road course en route to the series championship in 2006. Stewart has also competed in the prestigious Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona five times, with a best finish of third in 2005.
So, if you're looking for a candidate this weekend who embraces both the left and right turns of Infineon Raceway, look no further than Stewart.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You tested at the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) road course in Alton June 8-9 in preparation for Sonoma. While you've tested at VIR many times, this was your first road course test with crew chief Darian Grubb and Stewart-Haas Racing with chassis and engines furnished by Hendrick Motorsports. How did it go?
"It was good. Everywhere we've gone this first time around, it's just learning. It was exciting to go from the win at Pocono (Pa.) -- we'd love to have had a day to enjoy it -- but going straight to the track, everybody's morale was up. Anytime you test at VIR, it's hot and they're long days. Coming off a win definitely helped with that. I'm just excited. It was exciting to work with a different package than what I'm used to. I felt like it was a really productive test. We learned a lot. I think between Darian and I, he learned a lot about what I like and the feel that I'm looking for. We actually enjoyed the test. I don't want to go back there and do two more days of it, but it was very productive. We got a lot done and worked through a lot of things we don't have the time to work through when we get to Sonoma."
Considering you're with a new team with new cars, did you experience a different feel to the racecars than what you're used to?
"It started different, but then we got to a feel that I'm used to. You find ways of kind of taking the best of both worlds and learning how to transfer what I'm used to feeling at a road course to what they're used to running at a road course. Even though I've always felt comfortable on road courses and have had success, it was good to try something a little different and get outside the box, so to speak."
The rapport you and Darian Grubb have developed seems to have come very quickly. How? Did it just happen?
"Yeah, you can put two people together that are the best at what they do, and there's no guarantee that it's going to work. We've just been a good combination, and it's not something that happens easily. You're very fortunate to get in situations like that, so when you do get that, you try to protect it as well as you can."
With six road course wins, do you feel you have a better opportunity to win on a road course than you do at some of the other oval tracks you visit?
"It's definitely a place I feel like we've got the potential to win, even before we make a single lap."
What is it about you and road courses? Because it's such a different discipline, do you go in and just throw caution to the wind, or is it a little more involved than that?
"I've just always liked it. I won a national championship racing go-karts on road courses, so the concept of what it took to win races on road courses wasn't totally unknown to me, but driving cars with suspension, and definitely driving cars that you had to shift, that's something that came relatively easy to me, and still comes easy to me as far as knowing how to synchronize the gears without having to use the help of the clutch. Even in the sports cars that I've driven with guys who have driven road courses all their life, I've gotten out of the car and the crew has torn the gearboxes apart and said that the dog rings in my transmission look better than when those guys are done with a transmission. There's just something about the shifting side of it that's been really natural to me, and it's fun. I like having a different discipline to race on. I like having the opportunity to do something twice a year that we don't get a shot at doing very often. I take the same amount of pride that someone like Ron Fellows or Scott Pruett does when they come into a road course race. I take that same pride in running well that they do in these cars. I don't look at it from the standpoint that it's a negative weekend. I look at it as a positive, that it's something we enjoy and I feel like that gives us a leg up on most of the guys we race with at these tracks."
What does it take to win at Sonoma?
"You've just got to have a good handling car. Aerodynamics are not the least bit important at Sonoma, which is great because it's one of the few tracks that we go to that we don't have to worry about aero balance or anything like that. It's just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day and having good pit stops and pit strategy and staying out of trouble.
"A lot can happen at Sonoma. You've got to be patient all day. You get a lot of cautions there and a lot of guys end up beating and banging on each other. I mean, the cars look like they've been to a race at Martinsville (Va.) because it's a short road course. Save that car for the last 20 laps because that's the critical time. Do what you have to do to get through the first 90 laps, but those last 20 are the ones when you really have to go, and you need your car to be in one piece to make it happen."
You've won four of the last nine road course races and six altogether -- two at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen. Does success at one venue transfer to the other?
"The two tracks, while both road courses, are still pretty different. At Watkins Glen you don't have to finesse the throttle near as much as you do at Sonoma. When you get the car turned, you can get in the gas and then stay in the gas. Watkins Glen is much faster than Sonoma. I think there are the same amounts of passing opportunities, but because of the speeds that you're able to run at The Glen, brakes become a much bigger factor than I think they are at Sonoma. It's pretty much a horsepower track. It's horsepower and aerodynamics just like it is anywhere else we go. It just happens to be in the form of a road course. Sonoma has a lot less grip in the racetrack. You have to really be careful with the throttle there, and that puts more of the race in the driver's hands. If anything, Sonoma is probably more technical than Watkins Glen because there's hardly any time where you get a chance to rest. You're always either shifting or accelerating or braking or turning or doing something. At Watkins Glen, at least on the frontstretch and on the backstretch, there are three straightaways where you get a little bit of time to take a break. Watkins Glen seems to be more in the crew's hands and the engine builder's hands. Obviously, there's still a job that I need to do in the racecar, but I'm relying on the equipment and the crew a lot more at Watkins Glen."