KANNAPOLIS, N.C., – When Tony Stewart arrived at Dover (Del.) International Speedway in the spring of 2000 as a sophomore driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he was 10th in the championship point standings with three top-fives and seven top-10s in 12 races. He had led a total of 71 laps, and 69 of them had come two races prior at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. His best finish was a second-place effort in the third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Stewart was close to catching fire, but he needed a spark. Enter the Monster Mile.
The 1-mile, concrete oval known for chewing up and spitting out even the most seasoned of Sprint Cup drivers was thoroughly tamed by Stewart. He led 242 of the 400 laps, the most of any driver, to become the 12th different winner of the 2000 season. It was a monster of a drive that kicked Stewart’s season into gear, initiating a nine-race stretch that brought two more wins and seven top-10s.
Driving the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) this Sunday at Dover in the FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks, Stewart seeks another monster drive – both on the track and off.
For the second time in 2015, Stewart will carry the colors of Code 3 Associates, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization specializing in animal rescue and recovery in disaster areas. Since launching in 1985, the mission of Code 3 Associates has remained the same – to provide professional disaster response for animals in need, and to train individuals involved in animal-related law enforcement and emergency response to safely and effectively carry out their responsibilities to the animals and people in their communities.
This weekend, Code 3 Associates aims to raise awareness and drive membership via its free membership program – a package that offers concerned individuals the opportunity to get involved at no cost. All they need to do is sign up at www.Code3Associates.org or text “TONY” to 38470.
Now a three-time Sprint Cup champion with 48 career victories, Stewart is also a three-time winner at Dover. After sweeping the track’s slate of Sprint Cup races in 2000 where he bookended his spring performance by leading 163 laps in the fall race, Stewart scored his third Dover victory 12 years later when he won the 2013 FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks.
The win was evocative of Stewart’s early days at Dover where from 1999 to 2004 he finished outside the top-10 only once – an 11th-place finish in June 2002. During that 12-race span, Stewart scored two wins, nine top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Stewart has displayed some monster drives at the Monster Mile, which is why Code 3 Associates paired with Stewart to drive membership. Another opportunity awaits Sunday in the FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You have Code 3 Associates on your racecar at Dover. Talk about that.
“We’re honored to have Code 3 Associates as a partner with Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s nice to know there’s an organization out there that takes care of a sometimes overlooked but very important family member – your pet. Taking care of animals has always been important to me, and when we started our foundation, we made animal welfare a priority. To be able to promote the work of Code 3 Associates so that it can do even more work for people and their pets is very satisfying.”
What do you remember about your last win at Dover in 2013?
“I remember thinking that if someone had told me we were going to win, I would’ve told them they were crazy. We just didn’t have the car to win the race, but we had great pit strategy at the end. Our Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy was solid, but we just never could get the track position to get in clean air. We changed only two tires on that last stop to get up front. The car felt a lot better up there and it didn’t seem like the guys who took four tires had a huge advantage taking off. When we noticed we were catching the leaders, we kind of got going on the bottom and made up even more time. It was just a big win for us and really gave us some momentum for the next few races.”
After early success at Dover, it’s been a track that in recent years proved troublesome, at least prior to your 2013 win. What is your mindset going into Dover?
“Dover is probably the track where we have struggled the most, which certainly made the 2013 win that much sweeter. It was the one track that we always had to look at and say, ‘This is one that we have to figure out and do better if we’re going to have a shot at this.’ We have to survive there. What we did there that year helped us out for our next two races at Dover but, even with the win, we have some work to do.”
Dover’s surface is concrete. Do you have to alter your driving style when you race on concrete?
“I don’t think you drive it any differently. But because it is concrete, the track has a lot more bumps than an asphalt track would. There are seams in Dover’s surface and places where they’ve cut the concrete for expansion. Those sections shift and change and, every year when you go there, the bumps are a little bit different than they were the year before. Dover is a track that’s constantly changing. But it’s one of those places where you really can’t change your driving style. You still have to do the same things you always do. It’s just a matter of finding the package that’s right for that racetrack. But other than that, you go through the same set of scenarios and challenges you would on any asphalt track – either the car is going to be tight or it’s going to be loose.”
Dover is a pretty unique track being that it’s a high-banked, concrete, mile oval. How do you approach it?
“Dover is a track that is kind of a two-phase deal. It’s easy to get your car too tight in the center (of the corner) trying to get it to drive up off the corner nice, and it seems like if you get it to rotate through the corner, then it’s way loose off. Those are the two things you really battle there. It’s the sacrifice of where do you want to be a little bit off to accomplish having a balanced car.”
Is Dover the type of racetrack where a driver can make up for a racecar that isn’t handling well?
“To a certain extent, yes. With the way the cars slide around on the racetrack late in the day, there are times when a driver can make up for what the car won’t do. They can move around on the racetrack and help themselves out by finding a faster groove.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine