TONY STEWART Ready To Bat '400' KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 16, 2010) - Nap Lajoie was the first to do it. Ty Cobb did it. Ted Williams did it. Now, Tony Stewart will do it. That's right, he'll hit 400, and he'll do it this weekend at Texas ...
Ready To Bat '400'
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 16, 2010) - Nap Lajoie was the first to do it. Ty Cobb did it. Ted Williams did it. Now, Tony Stewart will do it. That's right, he'll hit 400, and he'll do it this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
While Lajoie, Cobb and Williams hit .400 with their bats in a single baseball season, Stewart took 11-plus seasons to hit the 400 mark, and instead of a piece of white ash, the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has used a 3,400-pound stock car.
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will make his 400th career Sprint Cup start in Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas. Leading into this milestone race, Stewart has recorded 37 wins, which ties him for 18th on the all-time series win list with Bobby Isaac. The Columbus, Ind., native has also scored 10 poles, 145 top-fives and 233 top-10s while leading 10,673 laps.
His Sprint Cup debut came in the 1999 Daytona 500 and, by his 25th start, he had his first win - Sept. 11, 1999 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The wins kept coming, as Stewart has at least one victory in each of his 11 Sprint Cup seasons. His high-water mark of six wins in a single season came back in 2000, but the years haven't done anything to diminish Stewart's proclivity for spraying champagne in victory lane, for the 38-year-old Stewart picked up four point-paying wins - five if you include the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway - last season in his first year as a driver/owner with SHR, the team he co-owns with Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation.
So, here he is in his 12th Sprint Cup season, ready to make his 400th start at the track where he already has a win, four top-fives and 10 top-10s in 16 previous starts. In fact, in the last 10 races at the Lone Star State's 1.5-mile oval, Stewart has led the league in laps led (453) and time spent in the top-15 (82.9 percent).
After sub-par results in the series' past two races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., Texas couldn't come at a better time for Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice team. A strong run is needed, not just for the obvious reason that it's what makes Stewart tick, but because it will bolster his standing among the top-10 in points, a point of pride for Stewart since he's finished among the top-10 in points every season but one.
In a state where everything is bigger, there's no better place to hit "400."
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You'll be making your 400th career Sprint Cup start at Texas. Does that surprise you, or do you look at it as just another number?
"I'll give you the reality of this deal. I didn't even know it until somebody told me. And I was like, 'Okay, that's cool.' But then it was back to business. It's a milestone, but it's not as big when you compare it to some of the other drivers and see how many starts they have in their career. When you compare it to Richard Petty (1,184 starts) or Ricky Rudd (906 starts) or Mark Martin (765 starts), 400 isn't a lot."
Even though you downplay your 400th start, do you consider yourself a NASCAR veteran?
"I think after 11 years I'm somewhat of a veteran. I'm not yet an ageless veteran, but a veteran, nonetheless."
In addition to your 400th start, the other storyline this weekend is how the new spoiler will affect the racing at Texas. You tested a version of this spoiler at Texas in January and again at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in March. What are your expectations?
"We really didn't run as a pack when we tested, but it was pretty much business as usual. There were times we all got around other cars and it didn't seem like it was any big deal. Late in the session, we got around a couple of guys, but I don't know if we can put much stock in that. We're not going to know until we race it."
You set the bar pretty high last year in your first season as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing. Last year at this point in the season, you were fifth in points. Right now, you're ninth in points. How do you feel your season is going?
"Well, you never know. This is a sport where technology changes every week. It's hard to say where you can go because it's a week-to-week sport, whereas in other pro sports, it is pretty much where it is. There isn't a whole lot of technology that changes other sports. That's where what we do is different. I would like to be a little higher in the points, but the main thing is just being in the top-12 and, after 26 races, still being in the top-12 and having everything ready for that last 10-race stretch."
In your last 10 races at Texas you've led a series-best 453 laps (13.5 percent) and have run in the top-15 a series-best 82.9 percent of the time. How have you been able to adapt to Texas' layout?
"I've found that you can pass anywhere, really. If you get a guy who misses the bottom of the corner and he bobbles, you can get around him. But even if someone doesn't make a mistake and you've got a little better car than they do, the groove has moved up enough over the years to where the track's a little wider, so you have more room to get a run on a guy. But, as the tires wear out and grip goes away, drivers will make mistakes and a car's handling will become more important. And when a guy makes a mistake, you need to be there to capitalize on it. You can really pass anywhere as long as the right opportunity comes up."
Texas is a track where you've been consistently good. Does that make you more comfortable?
"Yes. Absolutely. It puts you in a positive frame of mind when you go to a track knowing that you've run well there before."
What is it, specifically, that makes you so comfortable at Texas?
"You have to be comfortable or you're not going to go fast. The more comfortable I am, the faster we go.
"This track, the grooves have moved around, especially in the last couple of years. We've seen the track start getting wider and, when Eddie (Gossage, track president) took the initiative and got rid of the bumps in (turns) one and two, it made it to where you can move around on the racetrack and where you can run the top side or the bottom side. It's nice from a driver's perspective to be able to have that flexibility behind the steering wheel, knowing that if your car's not driving exactly the way you want it to, you can move around the racetrack and find a spot the car likes better.
"Any time you put more seasons on a racetrack, the better it gets because it seems like the pavement wears out on the bottom and it makes it to where you can run the top and be fast and you can run the bottom and be fast. It makes the whole racetrack, speed-wise, about the same, versus when they pave a racetrack and the only groove is right on the bottom. The fastest way is the shortest way, because it all has the same amount of grip, so the shorter distance is faster. Every year that we come here, I think the racing just gets better and better, as far as being able to move around on the racetrack and guys not having to just follow each other and get stuck behind each other. You can actually pass. You can race. You can get away from guys if your car's fast."
Before you raced at Texas in a stock car, you raced there in an Indy car. What was the difference?
"The Indy car was nothing like driving a stock car. You could go anywhere on the track with the Indy car that you wanted to, and you could run wide-open while doing it. It was as easy as riding down the Interstate, whereas with a stock car, you're not off the gas very long, but you do have to lift. With the track being so line-sensitive, it's really important that you're doing the same thing every lap, and making sure you're very consistent in how you're driving the car."