KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Northern Kentucky is, in all likelihood, not the setting William Shakespeare had in mind when penning his classic, “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Intent aside, this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta is replete with Shakespearean implications.
At the heart of the wildly popular “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the illusion of a dualistic world, which has served a healthy dose of frustration for those attempting to analyze the meaning behind Shakespeare’s words.
Frustration is a state in which Tony Stewart has been quite familiar with this season. He has struggled to get a handle on the 2015 rules package, which features decreased horsepower and increased downforce. A reprieve, however, is on the horizon, as Saturday night’s 400-mile race around Kentucky’s 1.5-mile oval could be Stewart’s midsummer night’s dream.
A change to the rules package is on tap for Kentucky, beginning with an open test at the facility on Wednesday before practice and qualifying on Friday. All Sprint Cup cars, including Stewart’s No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Chevrolet SS, will be fitted with a 3.5-inch rear spoiler, a 25-inch radiator pan and a splitter overhang at 1.75 inches less than before. Collectively, it will reduce aerodynamic downforce.
It’s a step in the right direction for Stewart, who in his 37-year driving career has always piloted cars with more horsepower than can be applied to the racing surface, allowing him to steer the car through the corners via the throttle.
Stewart still yearns for increased horsepower, but ranked 25th in the championship standings 17 races into the 36-race season, the three-time Sprint Cup champion will gladly take the updated aero package being offered at Kentucky. Of course, it remains to be seen what effect it will have, perhaps even after 400 miles on Saturday night since Kentucky’s bumpy surface makes it an outlier from all the other intermediate ovals that make up the majority of the Sprint Cup schedule.
Regardless, Stewart will keep trucking, which is appropriate considering his sponsor at Kentucky is Rush Truck Centers. A subsidiary of Rush Enterprises, Inc., Rush Truck Centers is the premier service solutions provider to the commercial vehicle industry and the United States’ largest network of truck and bus dealerships, representing industry-leading brands. With more than 120 dealership locations in 20 states, all of which are strategically located in high-traffic areas or near major highways, Rush Truck Centers operate as one-stop vehicle centers offering an integrated approach to the needs of its customers – from sales of new and used vehicles to aftermarket parts, service and body shop operations plus financing, insurance, leasing and rental.
For just the fifth time, Kentucky plays host to NASCAR’s elite series after joining the Sprint Cup schedule in 2011. It’s one of only two tracks where Stewart has yet to record a Sprint Cup win. The other is Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, the oldest venue on the Sprint Cup schedule. Stewart would like nothing more than to cross Kentucky off his to-do list. If he manages to emerge victorious Saturday night, fans will be treated to two first-time winners, as it would also be a first for Rush Truck Centers.
With a best finish of sixth earned earlier this season at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Stewart is intent on improving his numbers. And with a perceived improvement in the rules package for Kentucky, the Bluegrass State could very well improve Stewart’s state by turning his midsummer night’s dream into reality.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on the aero package for this weekend’s race at Kentucky?
“I think it should be the right direction as far as improving the racing action. I think we need to look at making the mechanical grip more important than the need for the aerodynamics. Mechanical grip doesn’t know where the air is, doesn’t know if there’s a car in front of you, behind you or wherever. That’s just my two cents and it comes from 37 years of driving 25 different types of racecars.”
It has been a challenging season. What is your outlook each time you come to a race?
“Every week we come here, we’re optimistic we’re going to have a good week. There’s not a week that I show up and don’t think I can win.”
You’re from Columbus, Indiana. Does racing at Kentucky feel like a homecoming of sorts?
“I’m a Southern Indiana guy, so the track is not very far from where I grew up and where I currently live. It’s kind of a home track to us, and that’s kind of the feeling we have going into it. You always want to run well at your home tracks. Even though Indy has always been my home track in the past, having Kentucky Speedway on the schedule, it’s as much home to me as Indy. Plus, it’s an area that has deep racing roots. There are a lot of dirt-track racing roots around Kentucky.”
What separates Kentucky from the other intermediate tracks visited by the series?
“Kentucky is so unique from the standpoint there are so many bumps. It really gives it a much different character than the other mile-and-a-half tracks we race on. If it was smooth, everybody would be able to figure it out a lot easier. That’s what makes it challenging and that’s what makes it unique. And, really, that’s what I think is fun about it. The drivers have to work harder because it is a unique surface. I wouldn’t mind if they’d take the double out of the front straightaway at the start‑finish line, but aside from that, that’s what makes that place so challenging. Because of that character I think is what will make winning at Kentucky so rewarding is the fact that you’ve had to work on things that you don’t have to work on necessarily every week.”
Is negotiating the bumps still the most challenging aspect of racing at Kentucky?
“I think so. The bumps really are the most challenging aspect and to be honest, we’re sort of still trying to figure it out. Trying to figure out exactly where to be, where to try to get around some of the bumps, how to get through them better, how to get the car to go through them better – those are challenges that kind of make it fun, because it’s not just flat and easy to get around.”
Is Kentucky like any other track you go to on the Sprint Cup circuit
“It’s a lot like Vegas for the most part, except for the banking and the bumps.”
How do you deal with the bumps at Kentucky?
“It’s really, really bumpy, so it’s a struggle to get the car to go through the bumps really well. It’s bumpier than anywhere that we go as far as mile-and-a-halves are concerned. But that’s what’s fun about it too is that it’s got character and makes us have to work on making it go through the bumps better.”
How much bumpier is Kentucky compared to other tracks?
“It’s definitely a challenge. It’s an added element that you have every week, but it’s more exaggerated at Kentucky than anywhere else we’ve been.”
Where are the bumps?
“I don’t know. I haven’t found a spot where there weren’t any bumps. You aren’t going to go around the bumps. They’re everywhere.”
Rush Truck Centers is back as a primary sponsor on your racecar. How did that relationship come about?
“We’ve been doing business with Rush Truck Centers for years. It’s an established relationship that has a much higher profile thanks to Rush Truck Centers becoming a primary sponsor with our team. Rush Truck Centers keeps our trucks and transporters up and running, and you could argue those are the most important parts of our race team. Without them, our cars never get to the racetrack. The employees of Rush Truck Centers are as detail-oriented as we are, and they play a critical role in the success of our race team.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine