Enriched at Richmond
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Tony Stewart likes to win. As both a driver and an owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, winning is something he’s been able to do. Repeatedly.
As a driver, Stewart has scored 48 point-paying victories along with a trio of Sprint Cup championships. Since partnering with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas to form Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2009, Stewart has earned 22 point-paying Sprint Cup wins as an owner, the most recent of which came April 12 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway via Kevin Harvick.
SHR has won three of the first eight races of the 2014 Sprint Cup season. Prior to Darlington, Harvick won March 2 at Phoenix International Raceway. And in between those wins was Kurt Busch’s victory March 30 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. SHR, in just its sixth season, leads all NASCAR teams in wins in 2014.
With all of that winning, Stewart the owner is grinning from ear-to-ear. Stewart the driver, however, wants to add his name to SHR’s 2014 victory scroll. With Richmond (Va.) International Raceway the next stop on the Sprint Cup circuit, Stewart spies opportunity.
On Saturday night, Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, will make his 30th Sprint Cup start at Richmond, home to three of his 48 career wins. And when not winning at the .75-mile oval, Stewart has been in sight of victory, with four second-place finishes, 11 top-fives, 19 top-10s and a total of 950 laps led.
Stewart’s winning record in Sprint Cup began at Richmond on Sept. 11, 1999. In just his 25th career Sprint Cup start during his rookie season, Stewart scored his first Sprint Cup win in dominating fashion by leading 333 of 400 laps. Stewart has been winning ever since, with at least once victory in each of his previous 15 years in Sprint Cup, the longest such streak among active drivers.
Stewart’s success at Richmond hasn’t been limited to just Sprint Cup. In addition to his three Sprint Cup triumphs, Stewart has a pair of victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, winning back-to-back events in 2002 and 2003 while driving for former car owner and current ESPN analyst Andy Petree. Stewart also found success in a Late Model at Richmond, winning the 2012 Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, a 75-lap charity race.
The winning and the strong showings have made Stewart an unabashed fan of Richmond, frequently calling it his favorite track. In addition to the Sprint Cup car, Truck and Late Model stock car, Stewart has raced a NASCAR Nationwide Series car, a USAC Silver Crown car and a USAC Midget at Richmond. Now, Stewart’s back at the Virginia short track in his most familiar confine – the No. 14 Chevrolet, emblazoned this weekend with Rush Truck Centers, the premier service solutions provider to the commercial vehicle industry.
In the racing industry, Stewart knows the best solution is victory. With a pole two races ago at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth along with two-top-fives and four top-10s in the eight races so far this season – all of which have positioned Stewart 12th in points after leaving the season-opening Daytona 500 32nd in the championship standings – Stewart is primed for a win, especially now with his favorite racetrack up next on the Sprint Cup docket.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve had a lot of success at Richmond and have often said it’s one of your favorite tracks. Why?
“First, it’s not one of my favorite tracks, it is my favorite track. It’s the perfect-sized track for a Cup race. The other short tracks we run – Bristol and Martinsville – they’re cool in their own right, but there’s a lot of congestion at those two tracks. But at Richmond, it just seems like that extra quarter-mile, and that three-quarter-mile shape, and how wide the groove gets there, allows for good racing. It seems like we have to race ourselves and race the racetrack versus racing each other a lot of times. You do have to race each other, obviously, but there are a lot of times during the race when you have the flexibility to move around on the racetrack and try to find a spot that our Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevy likes better than somewhere else. A lot of times on a short track, you don’t have the flexibility. You’re more narrowed down with what groove you’re going to be in. It is literally the favorite track of mine on the circuit.”
What does it take to be successful at Richmond?
“As much as you’re racing everybody else, you have to race the racetrack. It just seems like a place where if you can get the balance right, it makes it an extremely fun day. With the two ends of the track being different like they are, it seems like you’re always fighting something, but that’s what always makes the racing good, too. You never really get anybody who gets their car perfect. Even the guy that gets the lead still isn’t happy with his car. So, it’s really trying to find that balance and trying to figure out how to balance both ends of the track together.”
SHR has a lot of momentum right now. It seems things have shifted from where it was at the start of the season.
“The whole organization has been doing an awesome job. Obviously, we’re coming in here after Kevin’s (Harvick) second win – two of our cars have won three races for the team, which is a great feeling for us. We had the pole a few weeks ago at Texas and we were pretty proud of that. I don’t know if there is any one thing that changed because our cars have had speed. Kurt (Busch) and Kevin (Harvick) have been qualifying and running well all year, for the most part, and the good thing is it’s not just one team. I don’t know that we can really point to one thing that has changed in the first eight races to be truthful. I think it’s still early in the year and a lot will change. I think the biggest thing for us is that the atmosphere at our shop is really good right now. It has been ever since the end of last season. We have a lot of new faces, and with that has come a new excitement at the shop, and it seems to be transferring to the racetrack.”
Aside from Harvick’s win at Phoenix, the first couple races seemed to be a challenge for the organization. How do you deal with the tough times as an owner?
“It’s not easy, for sure. I mean, it was always hard as a driver, but it’s even worse as a driver/owner. When things are tough, the pressure and the burden is more on you knowing that you’re responsible for everything versus just being the guy driving the car. It’s hard, but it’s also what makes it more gratifying when things go right, and that’s what we’re getting to enjoy right now.”
SHR had a lot of change in 2014 with the addition of a fourth team for Busch. How challenging has it been to manage that growth?
“Well, adding the fourth car was part of it, but the bigger part is that all of the cars are running a totally different package this year with set-ups with no ride-height rule and all that. Everything that we did last year is kind of out the window, and now you’re doing things that are totally different. You’re not just doing it for our Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevy. You’re doing it for all four cars. So, there have been a lot of changes, but they go beyond the fourth team.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine