Texas: Tony Stewart preview

Get Your Popcorn Ready HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 2, 2008) -- "Get your popcorn ready, 'cause I'm gonna put on a show." For those living in the Dallas area and for any fan of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, those words ring familiar, for they came...

Get Your Popcorn Ready

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 2, 2008) -- "Get your popcorn ready, 'cause I'm gonna put on a show." For those living in the Dallas area and for any fan of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, those words ring familiar, for they came from none other than receiver Terrell Owens, who has all but trademarked the line since joining the Cowboys in March 2006.

But with the NASCAR Nationwide Series set to roll into Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, T.O. will take a backseat to T.S., who plans on putting on a show of his own.

T.S. is Tony Stewart, and he's the hottest driver in the Nationwide Series. So hot, in fact, that he took the past three Nationwide Series races off to do his part to help curb global warming.

After leading three times for 46 laps to win the season-opening race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Stewart proceeded to dominate the next race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., by leading three times for a race-high 136 laps en route to victory.

The driver of the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing appeared on his way to a history-making run, for no driver had swept the first three Nationwide Series races of the season, but there was Stewart in round three at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with his red and white Old Spice machine leading twice for 61 laps. But a crash with a lapped car on lap 137 of the 202-lap race sent Stewart hard into the SAFER Barrier along the outside retaining wall, ending his shot at a three-peat.

Stewart hasn't raced in the Nationwide Series since, but Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 car has, with Kyle Busch piloting it at Atlanta and Nashville (Tenn.) March 8 and March 22, respectively, with Denny Hamlin sandwiched in between at Bristol (Tenn.) March 15. In those three races, the No. 20 car led 10 times for 315 laps. Add it up with Stewart having led eight times for 243 laps, and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team has led a whopping 558 laps of the 1,066 laps available (52.3 percent) so far this season. No other team in the Nationwide Series has come close to matching the Dave Rogers-led No. 20 team.

What's even more frightening -- at least for the 42 other drivers -- is that Stewart is back in the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota come Saturday's O'Reilly 300 at Texas.

In four career Nationwide Series starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Stewart has led 150 laps and scored two top-10 finishes. Even scarier for those going up against Stewart and the No. 20 team is that Stewart has led those laps in his last two Nationwide Series races at Texas, where he finished second in the 2006 fall race with 36 laps led and seventh in the 2007 fall race with 114 laps led.

The Lone Star State could turn out to be a lonely place for Stewart, as the car he'll have underneath him in the O'Reilly 300 could very well put him way out front, for it's the same car that delivered him to a 2.408-second margin of victory five races ago at Fontana.

The hard-charging Stewart will attempt to add to the two trophies he already took from Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage in 2006 -- an April trophy for winning round two of IROC XXX and a November trophy for winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

If Stewart earns a third Texas trophy after Saturday's O'Reilly 300, expect him to shout "Ahoy!" as he docks his Old Spice Toyota in victory lane.

Tony Stewart -- Driver, No. 20 Old Spice NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Texas

With the success you've had this year in the Nationwide Series, you've half-jokingly said that you wanted to run the entire schedule. How serious were you, and how do you feel getting back into the Nationwide Series at Texas?

"Obviously you go out and win the first two races and the third race we're the fastest car on the track, it makes you want to go ahead and run for it. But it was also nice having a couple of weekends off. It's going to be fun going back to Texas. We were the fastest car there last year and had a huge lead and got into an incident with a lapped car that was about three laps down at that time already and that took us out of an opportunity to win the race. I've won there in a Sprint Cup car, but I've been there a couple times in a Nationwide Series car and haven't had much success there. It will be nice to go back and kind of repeat what we did early last year, but obviously, finish it off."

When you weren't driving the No. 20 car, it still ran really well with your Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin -- at the wheel. How impressed are you by the strength of the No. 20 team?

"Obviously, the team speaks for itself. They ran great last year with Denny in the car and everybody that drove it. This year, we all get a chance to drive the car. It's been good for all of us. If you're having a bad weekend with the Cup car, it gives you a good feeling knowing that you had a good race the day before going into a Sunday where you might think you're not going to be so good."

How much have your strong runs in the Nationwide Series served as a confidence booster for what you're trying to accomplish in the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday?

"It's huge, especially if you're having a bad weekend on the Sprint Cup side. It's easy to start questioning what's going on. When you can go out there and have a good run on Saturday, it helps you have that confidence as a driver. If the driver doesn't have confidence going into Sunday, then it takes a lot to get up front. We've had good cars everywhere we've been with the Nationwide side. We've had good cars on the Cup side. Even if it's a little bit off, when you've had that good day on the Nationwide side, it just gives you that much more confidence and that much more of a boost the next day."

Given the fact that you don't have to worry about points, has competing in the Nationwide Series been like running in NASCAR in its purest form -- you're there just to win. Is it as fun as racing can be?

"You're still racing for points for the team. The team's going to run every race, so even though you're not behind the steering wheel every race, it's not a go-for-broke attitude. You're still point racing. Not on your behalf, but on the team's behalf. That part you still take pride in. As far as winning, it's still your personal goal as a driver to go out and win, and that doesn't change no matter what you're driving. If it's just a team that's only running a part-time schedule, then you can go with that go-for-broke attitude. But we've got a team that obviously finished second in the points last year and has a shot to win it this year. You want to go out and race and be conscious of that every time you're in the car for them."

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Tony Stewart , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing