The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

Sprint Cup - Stewart Race Preview New Hampshire

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

KANNAPOLIS, Sep. 19, 2012: With a win and a second-place finish in his two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races last year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Tony Stewart proved to be rock solid in the Granite State. That his win was his third career Sprint Cup victory at the 1.058-mile oval and fifth overall, as Stewart has a NASCAR Nationwide Series win (2008) and an IZOD IndyCar Series win (1998) at the “Magic Mile”, proved that the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet is wicked good at New Hampshire.

The team he co-owns with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas is also wicked good. Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), in just its third year of operation, dominated at New Hampshire in 2011, particularly during the team’s July visit.

Stewart qualified second to his teammate, Ryan Newman, and then finished second to him in the race, giving SHR a 1-2 start and finish in the same race, something that hadn’t been done since Hendrick Motorsports started 1-2 and finished 1-2 in the 1989 Daytona 500. Making the moment even more memorable, however, was that SHR’s performance was the first time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the same drivers in the same order since DePaolo Engineering did it on April 7, 1957 at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. There, Fireball Roberts won from the pole, while teammate Paul Goldsmith started second and finished second. (In Hendrick’s instance, Darrell Waltrip won, but started second. Ken Schrader started from the pole and finished second.)

When SHR returned to New Hampshire in September, Newman again won the pole, but it was Stewart who found victory lane.

Stewart led only the final two laps after the previous leader, Clint Bowyer, ran out of gas just before taking the white flag of the 300-lap race. It was the fewest laps-led total for Stewart in a race in which he won. His previous lowest laps-led total was five laps in October 2006 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.

The outcome was ironic, for in that same race one year earlier, the roles were reversed. Stewart was the leader, but he ran out of gas on the last turn of the last lap. The victor was Bowyer.

“Man, what a way to win it. Such an irony from last year where we ran out of gas coming to the finish,” said Stewart from victory lane. “You hate to see anybody lose it that way, but you’ll take a win any way you can get it right now.”

With back-to-back wins to open last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Stewart used his victories at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and New Hampshire to serve notice that he would be a force in the championship. Three more wins validated Stewart’s presence, as he won the title in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards, as Stewart’s five wins trumped Edwards’ one.

Stewart is back in New Hampshire in a familiar position – that of championship contender. Currently third in points, only eight behind Chase leader Brad Keselowski, Stewart sees opportunity in Sunday’s Sylvania 300.

In addition to his three Sprint Cup wins at New Hampshire, Stewart has a pole, 10 top-threes, 14 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 27 career Sprint Cup starts, all while leading a total of 1,180 laps, second only to Jeff Gordon’s total of 1,309 laps led at New Hampshire, for which Gordon has eight more starts than Stewart.

Stewart, the three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion and defending winner of the Sylvania 300, is ready to add to those statistics by landing a fourth Sprint Cup win at New Hampshire and a fourth Sprint Cup title.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You started this year’s Chase solidly with a sixth-place finish in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. How do you feel with one Chase race down and nine to go?

“Well, if you look at where we were last year, we’re pretty much in the same position where we were point-wise. We didn’t have the bonus points last year, so that kind of made up for what we lost in not winning the race on Sunday. It’s a decent start. You look at the problems Jeff Gordon had and Denny Hamlin had (at Chicagoland). I’m pretty sure they would trade us, so we didn’t have that bad of a day. We have a long way to go. We’re only eight points out, so we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing with our Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy.”

What are some of the things you’ve learned from being in the Chase seven previous times that you’re applying this year?

“My approach to the Chase is the same way it’s been any other time I’ve been in a point race – you go out there, you lead laps, you try to win races and the points take care of itself. If we don’t win, then we try to get second. If we can’t get second, then we try to get third. The higher you finish, the more points you get. It’s a pretty simple theory. You just go out and finish as high as you can each week and let the points fall where they may. I know that sounds like a simple formula, but the reason we got to this point is by following that theory. Every week we go out and we try to lead laps and we try to win races. That’s what got us here. There’s no reason to change that. Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel.”

You’re typically very strong at New Hampshire, but in your most recent visit to the Magic Mile, you struggled a bit, finishing 12th. What happened?

“We were so strong last year, and then Goodyear brought a different tire this spring, and we just didn’t hit on the right combination to make the tire work for us. But we learned a lot during the race and got our car better, and I think we’ll have a better idea what to do this weekend.”

Your performance last year at New Hampshire, as well as Stewart-Haas Racing’s overall performance, was pretty impressive. What was that like and how do you try to recapture that form in your return to New Hampshire?

“Loudon was awfully good for us last year. To start 1-2 and finish 1-2 in the spring race last year, and then to come back in the fall and have Ryan (Newman) win the pole again and for us to win the race, it really doesn’t get much better than that. When you run that well someplace, you love coming back. We had a dream weekend last July at New Hampshire and, really, a dream year. Now, we’ll just take what we learned from when we were there this spring and try and duplicate what we did last year.”

Explain a lap around New Hampshire.

“It’s a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you’ve got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too, so it’s hard to get up off the corners. Then you’ve got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it’s hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again.”

What makes New Hampshire unique?

“It just has long, sweeping corners. The corners in comparison to where we normally race, we’re used to having a lot of banking, but New Hampshire is pretty flat. It’s one of those tracks where you’re either fighting entry-loose, entry-exit and nice in the center, or you’re fighting tight in the center and you’re good on entry and good on exit. It’s a juggling act trying to get the car balanced for all three sections of the corner.”

Is New Hampshire a good place to race?

“Obviously, I like it because I’ve had success there. But at the same time, it’s a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it’s hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you’ve got a good car, it’s always fun to race.”

While you’ve won at New Hampshire, you’ve also had races where you’ve struggled. How can one race weekend turn out great and another turn into one you’d rather forget?

“If you miss on something it can be a miserable day. It seems like you don’t see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That’s what makes a day there miserable when you miss. It’s just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front.”