Post Fri Sep 09, 2011 2:31 pm

Tony Stewart Honoring Heroes of 9/11 at Richmond

Tony Stewart Honoring Heroes of 9/11 at Richmond

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:44 AM PDT

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Depending on the hour, it’s how Tony Stewart is viewing his chances in Saturday night’s Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

The 400-lap contest at the .75-mile oval is the cutoff race to determine which drivers will vie for this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Only the top-10 drivers in points, as well as two wild-card spots reserved for the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most wins, will be eligible to compete for the championship.

Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing, enters the last race of the regular season 10th in points with a 23-point cushion over 11th-place Brad Keselowski.

The “half-full” theory says that Stewart can lock himself into the Chase by simply finishing 18th or better. No matter the performance of any other driver, particularly Keselowski, if Stewart finishes 18th or better in the Wonderful Pistachios 400, he’s guaranteed a spot in the Chase.

The “half-empty” theory says that Stewart is on defense at Richmond, as a surging Keselowski – who in the last five races has scored two wins and notched other finishes of second, third and sixth to climb from 21st to 11th in points– is the only driver capable of bouncing a current top-10 driver like Stewart out of Chase contention.

But considering Stewart’s track record at Richmond, his glass should definitely be considered half-full.

The two-time Sprint Cup champion has three Sprint Cup wins at Richmond, along with nine top-fives and 16 top-10s to give him an average finish of 11th in 25 career starts. He has also led a total of 817 laps with a lap completion rate of 98.2 percent. And outside of Sprint Cup, Stewart has two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins at Richmond.

With a Chase berth on the line and a 12-year string of top-11 point finishes to keep intact, Stewart views Richmond as the catalyst for his seventh Chase appearance and another title run.

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

Since the inception of the Chase in 2004, you’ve been locked into the Chase entering Richmond all but one time, and that was in 2006, the lone year you missed the Chase. Is there pressure this time around since you’re not locked in yet?
“To be honest, I’ve never fallen into pressure. All 13 years we’ve been here in the points, we’ve just strictly dealt with it one week at a time. That’s the easiest way to approach it. What you do this week is this week Then once this weekend is over and done, you worry about next week. It’s literally that simple for us.”

Since you’re not locked into the Chase, have you thought back to other races where you could’ve scored more points than you did?
“I just try to keep it real simple. I really don’t try to over-think it. I don’t try to over-calculate everything. I’m focused on Saturday night, then once Saturday is over with, I’ll worry about what we’re going to do for Chicagoland next week. I literally take it by a seven-day cycle at a time. Atlanta was last week, so it really doesn’t matter what we did there. We are at a totally different racetrack this week. So no matter what happened last week or two weeks ago or two months ago, we can’t change any of it. We’re better off taking all of our energy and focusing on this coming week instead of focusing on something we can’t change.”

As a driver/owner, how much does making the Chase weigh on your mind?
“I still want the chance to race for a championship, so I don’t think about it any differently as an owner. Obviously, you want your partners and owners and sponsors to be a part of the Chase and get the exposure that the Chase brings. There are a lot of teams and a lot of drivers and a lot of owners right now who are trying for that same thing. It does weigh on your mind, and you can make yourself sick thinking about it, but you just have to go out and do the things you do every week. You try and win the race, and that’s what we’ve always done, is try and win the race each week. And if you can’t win, get second, and get as many points as you can.”

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 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.”

You’ve had an up-and-down season. Where is Stewart-Haas Racing right now?
“Definitely not happy with where we are, but I don’t think anybody really is. I think everybody feels like there are things they can do better, and some of those organizations are questioning what they have to do to get better. We’re one of those teams right now.”

With the level of competition so high, how hard is it to find an advantage and get your program where you want it to be?
“It just shows how sensitive these cars are. The window of getting them right is very, very small versus what we’ve had in the past. That’s what makes when you have a good day and you do get it in that window so gratifying – knowing you were able to accomplish that goal. It’s the hard part of trying to figure out what you’re missing when you’re off. That’s the frustrating part – when you go week in and week out and you can’t figure out what that missing piece of the equation is. You see guys that have not been good in the past but all of the sudden are good. They’ve found something, so it’s proof that it’s there. It’s just our job to go out and find it and capitalize on it.”

With three Sprint Cup wins and two Camping World Truck Series wins, you’ve had a lot of success at Richmond. Is it one of your favorite tracks?
“It is my favorite track. It’s not one of them, it’s the favorite track of mine on the circuit. I’ve just always thought 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 your car 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.”

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.”

You’re running a special paint scheme at Richmond honoring the heroes of 9/11, where a portion of the proceeds from the sales of diecast replicas of the car will go to The Stephen Siller “Tunnel To The Towers” Foundation. Siller was a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11 after bravely running through the tunnel in the World Trade Center towers to rescue people who were trapped. His family created the Foundation in his memory, which works to support firefighters, children who have lost a parent, and military who have been seriously injured in the line of duty. What do you remember about 9/11?
“I remember the morning of Sept. 11 waking up to a phone call, somebody said, ‘You need to turn the news on.’ I said, ‘Which news?’ They go, ‘Doesn’t matter.’ And you quickly realize why it didn’t matter, because every channel had it on. I was lying in bed, and I never got out of bed till six in the evening watching what was happening in disbelief. I just could not believe that our country had come under attack like that.

“I think the reason it’s so important to remember that day is because this is a country where we pride ourselves on freedom, and a group of terrorists tried to take that freedom away from us, and we need to remember the heroes and all the people – the firefighters, the policemen, the citizens – that tried to help during the attacks. You don’t want people to forget that. As time goes on the wounds heal in our memories, but you don’t want to forget the memory of those people who worked so hard and tragically lost their lives, either working in the towers or the firefighters and policemen who tried to save those people that needed rescuing. It’s very important for our nation not to forget the past and remember the people who were involved.”
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