The Bounty of October
KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (Oct. 14, 2015) – Tony Stewart is a racer’s racer. He has lived and breathed the game since he was a young boy growing up in Indiana racing go-karts at local tracks.
While racing is his thing, he respects the talent and skill possessed by his peers who compete in traditional stick-and-ball sports. For those with an appreciation of all things sport, October is a cornucopia of competition from the gridiron to the racetrack. The NFL season is in full swing. Preseason NBA games are ready for tip-off. The first puck is dropped in hockey. Major League Baseball teams are battling it out for their respective pennants, angling for a spot in the World Series. And the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is on.
It goes without saying that it’s a good time to be either on the precipice, or beginning, of a sojourn for a championship. But being in the hunt for a title isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying the fruits of October.
As the driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Arctic Cat Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Stewart is all about the harvest and aims to take advantage of the opportunities he has during the next few weeks while visiting the ovals on the Sprint Cup schedule. Next up is Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
Since being added to the Sprint Cup schedule in 2001, Kansas has been a welcome stop for Stewart. In addition to his two wins at the 1.5-mile oval in 2006 and 2009, Stewart owns six top-five and nine top-10 finishes, has led 152 laps, and completed all but 54 of the laps that have been available to him in his 18 career starts at the track for a lap-completion rate of 98.9 percent.
And even though the three-time Sprint Cup champion is not one of the 12 drivers still contending for the 2015 championship, he’s no stranger to playing Chase spoiler, having done so a few times in past seasons, including the track’s lone race in 2006. After starting 21st, Stewart and company outwitted the competition by stretching their fuel mileage over the closing laps, leading the final five circuits to claim victory.
A lot has changed, however, since Stewart scored the second of his two Kansas wins in 2009, primarily to the track itself, which was repaved during the summer of 2012 and reconfigured to include progressive banking of 17 to 20 degrees.
In addition to the changes to Kansas, Stewart has seen longtime SHR partner Rush Truck Centers, the subsidiary of Rush Enterprises, Inc., take on the added role of primary sponsor of his No. 14 Chevy at select NASCAR races. With more than 120 dealerships 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. The premier service solutions provider to the commercial vehicle industry and the largest network of truck and bus dealerships in the United States is on board with Stewart ready to reap the bounty of October this weekend at Kansas.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Arctic Cat Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The first of your two Kansas wins came in 2006 and it came in a fuel-mileage race. How’d you do it?
“It was a battle between the driver and the crew chief. The crew chief is yelling at you every lap to save fuel, but you’re not slowing down enough and he knows it because he’s looking at the stopwatch. When you’ve got guys behind you, you know you don’t want to give those spots up in case they happen to make it on fuel. So, I tried to save as much fuel as I could and still hold guys off. We were able to take the chance because we had nothing to lose. Not being in the Chase that year gave us that opportunity to take the chance and go ahead and run for it.”
When you took the checkered flag, you were out of gas. What were your thoughts inside the car when you knew you had run out?
“When we were coming down the backstretch, I asked how many laps we had left and they said, ‘You’re coming to the white (flag).’ Then I saw the needle start bouncing and it wasn’t on zero, but it was down to three pounds (of fuel pressure) and bouncing up and down. We came down the frontstretch and it started losing pressure when we went into turn one. Then it caught up for a second but, as soon as we came off turn two, it lost pressure immediately. It’s just important to get it kicked out of gear right away and just get down low on the racetrack and take the shortest distance around. We just coasted around and hoped we had enough of a lead to stay out front. Turned out we did.”
Your second Kansas win came in 2009. How decisive was the call to take two tires instead of four on your final pit stop to win that race?
“We made a great call getting two (tires) and the guys had an awesome stop. That was really what it boiled down to. We got that track position at the end and we had the luxury of being able to pick the inside or outside lane on the restart, and I kind of debated back and forth which side I needed to be on. But I kind of struggled when I was stuck on the bottom on restarts. So, I took a gamble and went to the top and got enough of a lead on Kasey (Kahne) to get down to the bottom that, by the time we got to (turns) one and two, I was able to run my line. We got enough of a gap right off the bat that it gave me the flexibility to run my own line, run my own pace and let those guys have to worry about catching us.”
But Jeff Gordon was catching you toward the end of the race. How did you hold him off?
“We just kind of ran our pace. When somebody starts running you down, it’s easy to over-drive your car trying to maintain a gap, and you end up making it worse on yourself. So even though I saw Jeff getting bigger in the mirror, I didn’t want to burn the tires off in case we got a caution and we got a green-white-checkered (finish), so we just ran hard enough to not abuse the tires. It’s like he could get so close and then he couldn’t get any closer. When he got up there, he got tight and he had to run pretty hard to get by Greg Biffle, and then to run us down. By then, he pretty much got the good of his tires and we got the luxury to kind of, on that restart, run our own pace and take care of it and make sure we made it last the whole way.”
You seemingly had the race won at Kansas back in 2007, only to see it turn 180 degrees and end up with a 39th-place finish.
“That was just circumstances. We were able to win a fuel-mileage race there where we really weren’t in a position to win but, because of our situation in the point standings, we were able to gamble and go for it. Somebody else that day lost a race they should’ve won, and that year may have been one of those for us. But it all comes out in the wash and it all averages out, eventually.”
Is what happened to you in 2007 at Kansas a prime example of how fickle this sport can be?
“There are guys out there on different agendas, especially with the Chase format. There are guys each week who have a different agenda of what they’re trying to accomplish with that day’s race. There are guys who have the opportunity to take chances, and there are guys who don’t have the opportunity to take chances. With that, it creates a lot of different scenarios at the end of the day. We took a chance that year. The scenario we had projected for ourselves just didn’t work out.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine