Daytona: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Won and Done KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 8, 2010) -- After 41 career NASCAR Nationwide Series starts stretched out over five seasons, Tony Stewart finally scored his first Nationwide Series victory when he won the 2005 season-opener at...

Won and Done

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 8, 2010) -- After 41 career NASCAR Nationwide Series starts stretched out over five seasons, Tony Stewart finally scored his first Nationwide Series victory when he won the 2005 season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway driving for an upstart Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI). The win was also the first for the team owned by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick and wife DeLana.

Flash forward to the 2010 Nationwide Series season-opener at Daytona where Stewart is back driving for KHI in the No. 4 Oreo/Ritz Chevrolet Impala in what will be his one and only planned Nationwide Series appearance of the year.

In the 47 Nationwide Series starts since that maiden win, Stewart has racked up seven other victories. And of his eight career wins in NASCAR's junior division, four have come in the season-opening race at Daytona. Two of the four wins have come with KHI, as Stewart scored back-to-back triumphs in the 2005-2006 season-openers. Those were the first and second career wins of his Nationwide Series career, and ironically, the first two Nationwide Series wins in KHI's history.

Now they're back together at the racetrack that put KHI on the map and provided Stewart his long-awaited Nationwide Series victory. Making the pairing complete is having veteran crew chief Butch Hylton call the shots for Stewart in 2010, just as he did in 2005.

The simple goal is to win, something Stewart has proven quite adept at, especially in the kickoff race at Daytona. The two-time Sprint Cup champion and former IndyCar Series champion has won four of the last five season-opening Nationwide Series races at Daytona. A wayward eighth-place finish in 2007 is sandwiched between back-to-back victories in 2005-2006 and 2008-2009. Making this recent run even more phenomenal is that Stewart has won these races driving for three different owners -- Kevin and DeLana Harvick in 2005-2006, Joe Gibbs in 2008 and Rick Hendrick in 2009.

Coming right out of the box and winning on the Nationwide Series' biggest stage has become a familiar storyline for Stewart, and if he is to repeat the performance yet again and go for three straight wins in the season-opener, it will be hugely appropriate as Stewart is carrying the colors of two products that always delight right out of the box.

His representation of Kraft Foods' Oreo and Ritz brands on the No. 4 Chevrolet fielded by KHI is a byproduct of the company's holistic partnership with Stewart and the Sprint Cup team he co-owns with Haas Automation -- Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

The iconic Oreo cookie and Ritz cracker brands are SHR's official cookie and cracker, with Stewart and his Sprint Cup teammate Ryan Newman carrying the brand's colors on their respective uniforms and cars. But adding some flavor to the pairing of Stewart and Kraft Foods is the No. 4 Oreo/Ritz Chevrolet. Just as it's the figurative vehicle to launch the partnership of Oreo and Ritz with Stewart, it's also the literal vehicle Stewart will use in his attempt to put Oreo and Ritz inside Daytona's victory lane.

So with one shot at a Nationwide Series win this season, Stewart has gone retro, teaming with the crew chief and organization that brought him his first career Nationwide Series victory.

While the term "one and done" usually provides a negative connotation, Stewart plans on switching up that line of thinking by being "won" and done come the end of Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona.

Tony Stewart, Driver of the No. 4 Oreo/Ritz NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet Impala at Daytona

Your first career Nationwide Series win came with KHI at Daytona in February 2005, and you won with them again at Daytona in February 2006. What's it like to be back driving for them at Daytona in 2010?

"I'm excited about it. I love Kevin and DeLana. They're some of my best friends. I enjoy the opportunity to be able to drive with them again. I've had fun with them. It's always nice to know that DeLana is there on race day and supportive of what we're doing. She's just as into it when Kevin's behind the wheel. It's fun. It's like driving for some of your best friends."

You've won the first race of the Nationwide Series season four times. How nice is it to start the year with a win, and how much confidence does it give you going into the Daytona 500?

"It's always a bonus when you can win on Saturday before going into the biggest race of the year on Sunday. To get a Nationwide win there, that's how you like to go to bed the night before the Daytona 500, knowing that you've got that trophy sitting out there on your desk from what you did Saturday afternoon."

How difficult is it to win one race at Daytona, never mind two in a row -- something you've done twice?

"Restrictor-plate races at Daytona are always a wild-card race. You never know who's going to win. We were fortunate enough to win one and then back it up the next year. To do it back-to-back like that once, never mind twice, is something we're really proud of."

What makes you so successful at Daytona, particularly in the season-opening Nationwide Series race?

"I don't know. I've had a lot of luck there. A lot of it has just been being at the right place at the right time, and making calls that were a little edgy on pit strategy to put ourselves in position at the end. I've had great cars to drive every time there. We've just been one of those guys that everybody knows that when we're out there, we're a threat in that division. So when it comes to the end of it, we've had some pretty good help."

In order to win a restrictor-plate race, you've got to have drafting help. How do you get that help?

"I think it's more a situation of guys finding the fast cars, and you finding the guys that you know are going to go with you because they know you're quick. If they go with you, they're going to get you to the front, which is going to get them to the front. It's kind of 'help me, help you.'"

Are there certain guys you've worked with at restrictor-plate races in the past that you know you're going to draft with?

"You have a list of guys that you know you're drafting with, and then there's another list of guys that you're all right with, and there's another list of guys that you don't want to be around. So you always know who the guys are you want to be with and who you'd rather not see anywhere near you."

Is there any strategy involved in running a restrictor-plate race, or is it just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented?

"The strategy is making sure you've got somebody you can draft with. You have to take the opportunities as they come, but with those opportunities you have to make a very quick decision. You've got to think, 'What happens if I try this and it doesn't work? What are the ramifications going to be?' You don't have the luxury of sitting down and taking the time to analyze the situation. You've got to make a split-second decision. A lot of times it'll work, but there are times when the decision that you made doesn't work. But once you've committed yourself to doing something, there's not much you can do about it."

Two of your 14 career wins at Daytona have come with KHI. Can you talk about their preparation leading into that race?

"It's a small team size-wise, but as far as equipment and everything, Kevin and DeLana prepare cars that are some of the best cars in the Nationwide series. To have a KHI car and to have Oreo and Ritz with us for that race, it makes for a potent combination."

Kevin and DeLana Harvick have said that you racing for them in the early years of KHI helped get their race team off the ground. As a still relatively new Sprint Cup owner, can you see how valuable your time behind the wheel was for them?

"I think they underestimate what they did for themselves. They put together a great organization, which enabled me to win with them and for Kevin to win in his own car. They've had the capability and the opportunity to be in victory lane a lot since they started that team, and we've got another shot to get another win for them this weekend at Daytona."

Are you going to bankrupt Kraft Foods, the parent company of Oreo and Ritz, because in addition to sponsoring you, they're giving you and the race team all the product you want?

"We won't bankrupt them from a cash standpoint, but we're going to hurt them on product, for sure."

You accomplished a lot off the track last year. Do you take a sense of pride in knowing that here's another marquee company in Kraft Foods with some iconic brands, Oreo and Ritz, signing on with you, and you're getting to represent them in one of the biggest races of the year?

"Yes. It makes me proud of my organization and the people we have here who have worked so hard to put us in those positions to have major companies like Kraft Foods come on board. It legitimizes what we're doing here and shows that we're a company that these Fortune 500 companies can have hope and faith in."

The Car

Chassis No. 043: This chassis is a staple among Kevin Harvick Inc.'s lineup of superspeedway cars. In 2009, Chassis No. 043 ran all three restrictor-plate races on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule -- Daytona in February, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in April and Daytona in July. Team owner Kevin Harvick wheeled this car at both Daytona races, while Ryan Newman drove it at Talladega. Harvick won the pole with Chassis No. 043 in last year's season-opener at Daytona and led twice for four laps before finishing 11th. Newman also picked up a pole with this chassis when he ran Talladega, where he led three times for 21 laps -- the second-highest total of the race -- en route to a strong runner-up finish to race winner David Ragan. With Harvick back behind the wheel for the series' return visit to Daytona in July, the driver/owner qualified third and finished 10th. The 2010 Nationwide Series season-opener will mark Chassis No. 043's fourth career start and first with Tony Stewart as its driver.

-source: kevin harvick inc

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Drivers Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , David Ragan , DeLana Harvick
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing