KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – There may be no place on Earth where Tony Stewart is more comfortable than behind the wheel of a racecar. Racing is the thing he’s been doing quite well since he was seven years old. And though Stewart cut his teeth on the open-wheel tracks which hosted sprint cars and midgets, it’s the massive tracks dotting the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar that have helped make Stewart a household name that transcends motorsports.
A 48-time race winner in NASCAR’s premiere division, Stewart has won at every type of track the Sprint Cup Series visits. And it’s on some of motorsports’ most renowned stages where Stewart’s star has shown brightest, perhaps no more so than Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, site of Sunday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola.
Stewart has 19 total victories at Daytona, second only to NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, who has 34 total victories at Daytona. Four of Stewart’s wins at Daytona have been in the Sprint Cup Series, and all have been in the Coke Zero 400.
Stewart leads all active drivers in Coke Zero 400 victories. Jeff Gordon is next best with three while another NASCAR Hall of Famer, David Pearson, owns the most Coke Zero 400 wins with five.
Stewart is second in laps led at Daytona with 668, trailing only Gordon, who has led 710 total laps. Stewart, however, leads all active drivers in laps led in the Coke Zero 400 (369).
While success at Daytona eventually became the norm for Stewart, superspeedway racing was outside the norm for the Columbus, Indiana, native when he came to the Sprint Cup Series as a rookie in 1999. But like a duck takes to water, Stewart took to negotiating the close-quarter racing and the art of the draft that is racing at Daytona.
It’s fitting that as Stewart returns to Daytona for his 34th Sprint Cup start at the sweeping, 2.5-mile oval that he has Ducks Unlimited on the quarterpanels of his signature No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing.
As it has since 2013, Ducks Unlimited, the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats, will share the orange-and-black No. 14 Chevy with Bass Pro Shops during the Coke Zero 400. Since 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across North America.
Winning at Daytona is a real feather in Stewart’s cap. He is the only active Sprint Cup driver to win back-to-back Coke Zero 400 wins, and augmenting his four wins are seven top-threes, nine top-fives and 14 top-10s in 33 starts at Daytona.
In his most recent Sprint Cup victory at Daytona, Stewart led 22 laps en route to the checkered flag in the 2012 Coke Zero 400. It was a race in which Stewart exercised textbook patience. He waited to make his case for the win well past the race’s halfway mark, taking the lead on lap 131 and leading 21 circuits before relinquishing the top spot to the duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle on lap 152. A massive crash set up a two-lap dash to the finish and Stewart regained the lead on the final lap with an impressive drive around Biffle and Kenseth off turn two and down the backstretch when another multicar wreck brought out the caution, securing Stewart’s victory.
As Stewart comes back to Daytona three years removed from his last win there, he would like nothing more than to duck back into victory lane in his Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevy when the checkered flag drops after the 57th running of the Coke Zero 400.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You always seem to be in contention when it comes to racing at Daytona. How do you put yourself in position to win?
“Everybody has got a shot at Daytona. We’ve been in that position before and have actually been able to take advantage quite a few times. The biggest thing is it gives you confidences that you’ve got a shot.”
You’ve had a long relationship with Bass Pro Shops and have a great appreciation for the outdoors. What does the Ducks Unlimited relationship mean to you?
“I love the outdoors and everything that goes into maintaining the outdoors. Nurturing the land is as satisfying for me as hunting and fishing. Giving back is something that drives me, be it in racing or with the outdoors. In order for racing to be sustainable, we have to have younger generations get involved. It’s the same with the outdoors. In order for hunting and fishing to be sustainable, our land and wildlife needs to be managed and maintained, and that knowledge has to be passed on from one generation to the next. Ducks Unlimited does a great job in that regard, and we’re proud to have them with us at Daytona.”
Restrictor-plate racing isn’t your favorite type of racing but it is one at which you seem to excel, particularly at Daytona. What makes it frustrating?
“I wish I could explain it. I’m certainly not any happier about it than I’ve always been, but we have had a lot of success at restrictor-plate tracks, especially Daytona. I’m glad we’re halfway decent at it, but it’s still always frustrating when you have to rely on what everybody else does. It’s not what you do. It’s what you do along with somebody else who decides that they’re going to follow you and help you. That’s the part that frustrates you as a driver. The great thing about restrictor-plate racing though is that 43 cars all have the same shot at winning the race, but again, that’s also part of what makes it frustrating, too. It’s just being at the right place at the right time.”
Talk about winning the 2012 Coke Zero 400.
“The biggest challenge was Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle because when they hooked up, I didn’t think there was anybody that could beat them. But we were able to stay in touch with them, and I got a great restart with Kasey Kahne helping me. We just had to try to separate Matt and Greg. Once we got them pulled apart, I think Matt tried to reconnect with Greg, and we carried enough momentum to get back around in front of him and get down on that bottom line. I tried to back up to Matt to make sure they didn’t get a huge run on us. They were coming on the outside in (turns) three and four and the last wreck happened, and we were just fortunate enough to be leading still.”
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