KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– As Tony Stewart carries the colors of Code 3 Associates this weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and champions the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization’s membership drive, he is driving toward membership in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Becoming a member of Code 3 Associates via its Website, www.Code3Associates.org, is a free and easy way to rally and organize people in support of Code 3 Associates’ mission, which is animal rescue and recovery in disaster areas.
Becoming a member of the 16-driver Chase field, which ultimately will decide the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, is markedly harder, but it does have a simple premise: win and you’re in.
If you’re among the top-30 in Sprint Cup points, a win during the 26-race regular season gets you into the 10-race Chase. Currently, there are 11 different race winners this season. Six races remain to lock up a spot. That leaves five spots still available. If no new winners emerge, those remaining positions will be filled by those non-winners highest in points which, at this stage, would be Matt Kenseth (fourth), Ryan Newman (seventh), Clint Bowyer (10th), Kyle Larson (13th) and Austin Dillon (14th).
A new race winner outside the top-14 in points would automatically jettison a non-winner, earning membership in the Chase.
Currently 19th in points and winless this season, Stewart knows the value of a win in the next six races. But he has always lived by his one-race-at-a-time mantra, and with the GoBowling.com 400 on Sunday next up for Stewart and the rest of his Sprint Cup counterparts, Stewart sees Pocono as his next best opportunity to become a Chase member.
When the Sprint Cup Series last visited Pocono in June, Stewart was poised to knock down that sought after win. He seemed to have the car to beat, climbing from his 12th-place starting spot to lead four times for 24 laps. But a pit road speeding penalty proved too costly to overcome, although Stewart was able to rally and finish 13th.
Six races have passed since that disappointment, and Stewart returns to Pocono with the same car – Chassis No. 14-707 – that performed so well on the 2.5-mile triangle in June. Another strong run throughout all 160 laps around the aptly-named “Tricky Triangle” would aid in Stewart collecting his ninth Chase berth since the inception of the Chase in 2004.
A win, however, would punch Stewart’s ticket to the Chase, and winning at Pocono is something Stewart has done twice already. A 48-time race winner in Sprint Cup, Stewart earned career win No. 16 at Pocono in June 2003 and career win No. 34 in June 2009. Augmenting those victories are two poles, eight top-threes, 12 top-fives, 22 top-10s and a total of 183 laps led in 31 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono.
Those consistent results have been mirrored by Stewart’s reliability on the track, as he has completed 5,678 of the 5,827 laps available to him for a lap completion rate of 97.4 percent. Only twice has Stewart failed to finish a race at Pocono. And since the inception of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Stewart has finished outside the top-15 only once (June 2011), giving him an average finish of 11th.
Membership has its privileges. It’s true for Code 3 Associates and it’s true for the Chase. With a No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS primed to pick up where it last left off at Pocono, Stewart’s membership drive is in overdrive in the GoBowling.com 400.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Six races to go before the Chase field is set. Can you go all-out for wins or do you still need to pay attention to points?
“It’s kind of a double‑edged sword right now. Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk it all for that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say ‘Well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity to get in on points? We still have two shots at getting in the Chase – one being a win and the other being getting in there because of our points position.”
You’re winless in Sprint Cup, but you’re not winless this season. You won a sprint car race July 18 at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Michigan. How much did that victory help you for what you want to achieve in NASCAR?
“It was a confidence boost for me. When you haven’t won, and you haven’t necessarily been a contender to be in the top-two or top-three each week and having those opportunities to win races this year, you start questioning what it is in the equation that you’re missing. As a driver, we’re all finicky when it comes to running bad, and you sit there and start questioning if you’re doing something wrong or if you’re not adapting to the car. Is it something that you’re doing or not doing as a driver? To be able to go out and win and then run third the next night in a car that I hadn’t been in for almost a full year, was a huge confidence boost.”
What is a lap around Pocono like?
“Going into turn one, you drive it in kind of deep and then try to float the car through the corner. It’s very flat when you go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn. Then the short chute into turn three – it’s a big, long corner and it’s important to get through that turn well because you have a straightaway that’s three-quarters of a mile long after that. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you aren’t bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make.”
Winning by maximizing fuel mileage has been a theme at Pocono. Your win at Pocono five years ago came in a fuel-mileage race. Can you explain what you did to make sure you had enough fuel to go the distance while many of your competitors did not?
“I’ve lost a lot more races like that than I’ve won. It was between Carl (Edwards) and me. We were the strongest two cars at the end of the race and we were able to get the track position we needed. Our guys did a great job of getting us out of the pits in the lead and that gave us the opportunity to make Carl push harder in the beginning to get the lead. Once he went into that fuel conservation mode, we had to follow suit. To be in a situation where your speed is dictated off the guy behind you and not off of what you can do, it’s a different style of racing. It’s hard. It’s just as hard, if not tougher, than trying to run 100 percent.”
You have Code 3 Associates on your racecar at Pocono. Talk about that.
“We’re honored to have Code 3 Associates as a partner with Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s nice to know there’s an organization out there that takes care of a sometimes overlooked but very important family member – your pet. Taking care of animals has always been important to me, and when we started our foundation, we made animal welfare a priority. To be able to promote the work of Code 3 Associates so that it can do even more work for people and their pets is very satisfying.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine