KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – As a 48-time race winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there isn’t much that Tony Stewart hasn’t accomplished in NASCAR’s premiere division.
He has a trio of Sprint Cup championships in addition to the title of championship-winning car owner – a feat he has accomplished twice, first with his own championship in 2011 and then in 2014 with the title earned by Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Kevin Harvick. And when it comes to winning, Stewart has done so at all but two of the venues the Sprint Cup Series visits – Kentucky Speedway in Sparta and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Filling out an already robust resume in what is destined to be a Hall-of-Fame career requires a bit of rapaciousness. Fortunately, an insatiable appetite for competition is what has fueled Stewart throughout his 17 years competing at NASCAR’s elite level.
Driving the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR, Stewart looks to tap into the voracity that has made him a NASCAR superstar during this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Stewart enters the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule as a two-time winner at Charlotte, but not in the Coca-Cola 600. Stewart’s first win at Charlotte came in October 2003 in the UAW-GM Quality 500. His second win came in May 2009 in the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
While he has yet to add a Coca-Cola 600 trophy to his vast collection, Stewart has come very close, never more so than in 2008.
Despite a 31st-place qualifying result, Stewart had a fast racecar in 2008, leading four different times for a total of 23 laps. With seven laps to go, Stewart found himself running in the top spot with a substantial cushion over second-place Kasey Kahne. As the laps ticked down to three to go, so did the air pressure in Stewart’s right-front tire, eliminating him from contention and resulting in an 18th-place finish.
To date, a third-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600 is Stewart’s best outing in the annual Memorial Day weekend event – an effort that is recorded in the history books when placed in context with what he had accomplished earlier in the day. Prior to strapping in for 600 miles at Charlotte that spring day 14 years ago, Stewart logged 500 miles in a race that had taken place several hundred miles to the north and west at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, scoring a sixth-place finish in the iconic Indianapolis 500. Stewart is still the only driver to record top-10 finishes in both races and to have completed all 1,100 miles between the two events in a single day.
Fast forward to 2015 as Stewart prepares to make his 32nd career Sprint Cup start at Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval where, in addition to the win in 2003, he has a pole, six top-fives, 13 top-10s and has led 701 laps.
At 600 miles, the Coca-Cola 600 is a one-of-a-kind race that takes place on a day in which that sentiment echoes around the world, from the streets of Monaco with the running of the Monaco Grand Prix, to Indianapolis for the 99th running of the Indy 500 and, finally, to Charlotte for the latest incarnation of the race originally known as the World 600. While Stewart will keep an eye on racing around the globe, his focus is on completing 600 miles at Charlotte and perhaps finally adding “Coca-Cola 600 winner” to his resume.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve won just about every race in Sprint Cup. How important would it be to add a Coca-Cola 600 win to your resume?
“Any time you win a race at Charlotte, it’s big. It’s a speedway with a lot of history and, obviously, the Coke 600 is a huge event. I’m a big fan of shorter races nowadays, but the 600 is truly a special event, with it being on Memorial Day weekend and the history of the Coke 600, back to when it was known as the World 600. There’s just a lot of tradition that surrounds the month of May in Charlotte. So, this is a big race. It’s an important race to win.”
Even though the two races take place on the same racetrack, how different is the All-Star Race from the Coca-Cola 600?
“We go from the shortest race of the year to the longest race of the year. The main difference, besides the distance, is that the Coke 600 starts in the daytime and ends at night, whereas the All-Star Race starts and finishes at night. We go from a sprint race to an endurance race.”
You’ve had a handful of races in your career you feel like you should’ve won, but is the 2008 Coca-Cola 600 one that sticks out most?
“Yeah, that’s definitely the one that sticks out the most in my mind. I mean, we had a five-second lead with three laps to go. We lost the right-front tire, but it wasn’t because of a mistake by Goodyear. It was the fact that we had run 100 laps on the right-side tires, so it just physically melted the bead on the right-front. So it wasn’t any fault of Goodyear’s. It was just circumstances.”
You’re still the only driver who has a top-10 in the Indy 500 and a top-10 in the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. What do you think of that?
“We’re still the only guy who’s completed all 1,100 miles of the double duty, which is something I’m really proud of. I think the best two finishes we had was sixth in the 500 and third in the 600. It makes for a very, very long day. When you’re done with the 600, after running Indy and the flight and helicopter rides and police escorts and all that during the day, you’re very, very content to lay your head on a pillow. And even when you do that, it still feels like it’s not stopped moving, yet.”
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