KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Few sports attract corporate America’s support as well as NASCAR. For 38 weeks a year, each of 40 drivers carry some type of corporate messaging on their cars or uniforms designed to make their product appealing to the millions of fans at the track or watching on television.
Most corporate support aims for brand recognition ultimately to boost sales. This weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, where Tony Stewart will pilot the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, one of his primary sponsors will take a little bit of a different sponsorship strategy.
“Rush Truck Centers is saluting the nation’s technicians who work hard every day to keep our nation’s trucks up and running,” Stewart said. Rush Truck Centers is reaching out to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 21 states.
According to Rush Truck Centers, the trucking industry is expected to need 200,000 diesel technicians over the next 10 years to keep up with maintenance demands. Rush Truck Centers wants to make NASCAR fans aware of these opportunities. Stewart said the relationship between his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team and Rush Truck Centers is a two-way street.
“Rush Truck Centers keeps our trucks and transporters in great condition, and you could argue those are the most important parts of our race team,” he said. “Without them, our cars never get to the racetrack. The employees of Rush Truck Centers are as detail-oriented as we are, and their technicians are the heartbeat of their dealerships. They play a critical role in the success of our race team.”
Stewart knows the best way to help Rush Truck Centers spread the word about the recruiting effort is to run well this weekend on the 2-mile oval in the Irish Hills region of Michigan. Stewart has one win, eight top-three finishes, 12 top-fives, 20 top-10s and has led a total of 225 laps in his 32 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan.
Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 is very important to the No. 14 team as the season reaches its middle stages.
Stewart missed the first eight races of the season after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. NASCAR granted Stewart a medical waiver that made him eligible for the Chase and compete for the series championship. To make the Chase, Stewart will have to race his way in by winning at least once and ending NASCAR’s 26-race regular season in the top-30 in driver points. Right now, David Ragan is in 30th place with 189 points. Stewart is 36th with 118 points. Last year, Kyle Busch was 179 points out of 30th place when he got back in the cockpit after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season. Busch went on to win the championship.
Stewart showed signs he’s returning to full health last weekend at Pocono (Pa.) International Raceway. His sixth-place qualifying effort Friday was his best at a non-restrictor-plate track since he qualified sixth for the April 2015 race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Stewart raced in the top-10 during Monday’s rain-delayed race until he became one of several drivers to be involved in an accident while racing three-abreast in turns one and two at the Tricky Triangle.
While the 400-mile race wasn’t what Stewart the driver hoped for, Stewart the team owner celebrated Kurt Busch’s hard-earned victory, which was SHR’s 32nd since its inception in 2009. Busch and fellow SHR driver Kevin Harvick have likely clinched places in NASCAR’s 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs that begin Sept. 28 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
After this Sunday’s race, the Sprint Cup Series will enjoy a rare off weekend and celebrate Father’s Day on June 19. Stewart has often credited his father Nelson for his love of racing and developing the skills that led to three NASCAR Sprint Cup titles, an IndyCar title and four USAC championships.
“Probably the first 10 years of my life in racing, we raced together with our go-karts,” said Stewart, who climbed into his first go-kart in 1978 in Westport, Indiana. “I would say probably our greatest memory is the first Grand Nationals that we went to in Iowa together. We won out there, and I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning when we finally finished. I was 12 years old, so it was way past my bedtime, but it was the first time I had seen that much excitement in my father’s face. I guess he realized more at the time what we had accomplished than what I realized had happened.”
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you mean when you say changing your line at Michigan can make the track work for you?
“With the corners so big and so sweeping, being able to have the flexibility to change your entry to the corner really pays off there. It’s things that are hard to see and hard to tell from the car. When the crew chief reads that lap time to you at the end of (the lap), normally if it’s better, it’s not two- or three-hundredths better, it’s more like two- or three-tenths better. On a track that size, that is a lot of distance for that time.”
Is it easy to overdrive the corners at Michigan?
“Yes, especially now with the track repaved. It is so nice. It’s smooth as glass and so fast. If you overdrive the entry a little bit too much, the amount of time it takes the front end of the car to get caught up and get it to where you can get back in the gas, you lose so much time. It puts a premium on being disciplined and not to overdrive the entry like that.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine