Posted: 01 Mar 2011 02:12 PM PST
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – “Taxicab Confessions” is back. Not on HBO, but on the Las Vegas Strip, at least for a couple of hours on Wednesday.
Tony Stewart will be a taxicab driver for a day, and just as he’s been a standout figure in his 13 seasons as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, he’s bound to stand out in a city filled with stand-ups.
Stewart’s ride will be familiar to NASCAR fans and slightly outlandish to those calling Las Vegas home. His taxi will actually be a bona fide No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala stock car made street legal thanks to some headlights and taillights. With a passenger seat installed as well as a lighted “Taxi” sign on the roof, Stewart will be in business. No horn will be needed. The 358 cubic-inch V-8 that rests under the hood and is controlled by Stewart’s right foot will suffice.
He’ll begin at Lucky Cab where the real pros will show Stewart the ropes before making pick-ups at the MGM Grand. Expect to see Las Vegas icons David Copperfield and Elvis riding shotgun with Stewart, along with some familiar faces, such as Miss Sprint Cup. The correlation with Lucky Cab and Stewart’s interim role as a taxi driver is that Mobil 1 partners with Lucky Cab to test the protection of its motor oil. Driving conditions in Las Vegas are extreme, especially for taxis, as they constantly deal with high temperatures, dust, long idle times and stop-and-go driving. In changing the oil every 15,000 miles in Lucky Cab’s stable of taxis, Mobil 1 found no visible signs of engine wear, even after 130,000 miles.
Stewart has been racing a few miles north of the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for more than a decade. He’s logged nearly 4,300 racing miles at the 1.5-mile oval, and while he also shows no visible signs of wear, for he’s currently tied for third in the Sprint Cup championship point standings, he also has nothing to show for his efforts.
Of all the venues that host both the Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Las Vegas is the lone racetrack where Stewart has yet to record a victory. (We’re not counting Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, for its inaugural Sprint Cup race isn’t until July. – Ed.)
It’s certainly not for a lack of effort, as the two-time Sprint Cup champion has recorded two top-three, four top-five and seven top-10 finishes while leading a total of 192 laps in his 12 career Sprint Cup starts at Las Vegas. He also has four Nationwide Series starts at Las Vegas and finished third in 2007 driving for Kevin Harvick Inc. However, it was in the 2008 Nationwide Series race where Stewart appeared poised to cross Las Vegas off his “to-do” list.
Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Stewart led twice for 61 laps, and after his then JGR teammate Kyle Busch crashed out when a flat tire sent him into the wall, there was no other driver even close to matching the pace set by Stewart. But an accident with a lapped car on lap 137 of the 202-lap race sent Stewart hard into the SAFER Barrier along the outside retaining wall in turn three, ending his shot at visiting Las Vegas’ victory lane.
Even though a win hasn’t been earned at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stewart has, in fact, won races on the track’s grounds. The first one came in November 2002 at the Las Vegas Bullring, located just behind turns one and two of the 1.5-mile oval, where Stewart swept the USAC Sprint/Midget doubleheader. The second came last November when Stewart won the preliminary round of the inaugural Las Vegas Sprint Car Nationals at the Dirt Track. It was Stewart’s first American Sprint Car Series (ASCS) victory in only his second ASCS start.
Coming off a seventh-place finish last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway where Stewart led four times for 59 laps, the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy returns to Las Vegas ready to notch that much desired win – on the big track and in the big-time, for Sprint Cup is the only race on Stewart’s docket this weekend.
Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 is the sole focus for Stewart and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team, and since the Sprint Cup Series only visits Las Vegas once a year, it’s Stewart’s one chance to put a checkmark in the win column next to the currently vacant box that reads “Las Vegas.”
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is the key to being successful at Las Vegas
“I wish I knew because I still have not won there in the Cup Series. I have not won anything there, except for a USAC race at the Bullring and a Sprint Car race at the Dirt Track. But you know, there’s really no key to it. It’s just like anywhere else you go. You just have to have a well-balanced car. It seems like track position is really, really key there, but as long as you can get your car driving well and stay ahead of it, it seems like as the day changes, or the longer the day goes, the more the track changes and the more you have to stay up with it. We’ve had cars that have been good three quarters of the day, but we’d lose the handle on it the last quarter. You just can’t have any mistakes there because you cannot afford to lose the track position, and you have to be able to stay up with the changing track conditions as the day goes on.”
What is your outlook for this weekend’s race at Las Vegas?
“It’s no different at Las Vegas than anywhere else. You have to get the car to rotate through the corner, but still stay tight enough on entry and exit. There’s no unique challenges there. The track is really smooth and that lets you work on the attitude of your car, and I think that’s a luxury that we have there that we don’t necessarily always get everywhere else because every track has its unique set of bumps. Vegas has bumps too, but for the most part, it’s so smooth that you can really fine-tune the attitude of the car.”
You’re doing a big promotion with Mobil 1 on Wednesday in Las Vegas where you’re driving a taxi. Now that they’ve joined Stewart-Haas Racing, what does it say to have that kind of brand and a company in ExxonMobil behind you?
“It’s exciting. They are the largest company in the world, so having ExxonMobil with us is definitely a huge benefit, but the technology that they bring – it’s one thing to have a partner and a sponsor that can help support the projects that you need to be successful on the track, but when you have somebody like Mobil 1 that can actually add to the technology side of your program and can physically help you make your racecar go faster, you can’t put a value on that.”
Your World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series teams race Wednesday night and Thursday night at The Dirt Track. It’s not often when the schedules of your open-wheel teams coincide with your Sprint Cup schedule. Are you looking forward to a busy week as an owner and a driver?
“Oh, yeah. It’s really a cool weekend because we get to watch my open-wheel teams run two days in a row, and then I get to play the rest of the weekend. So I’m excited about that. That’s what makes going to Las Vegas so much fun is that we do get to see our other programs running.”
You’ve been a team owner in Sprint Cup for a little over two years now. How has life changed, if it’s changed at all?
“It hasn’t changed from the driving side. I think I’ve been on the ownership side long enough not only with the Cup stuff, but with my open-wheel teams, that it’s just business as usual. When you get in the car, you’re just thinking about being a driver. You’re not thinking about making payroll at the end of the week or all the other things that you worry about when you’re outside the car. When you’re in the car, if you’re thinking about anything other than driving the car, then you probably shouldn’t be in there to begin with. For me, that’s something that’s been really easy to separate.”
Which was the bigger transition – Sprint Car driver to NASCAR driver or Sprint Car team owner to NASCAR team owner?
“Definitely Sprint Cup team owner to NASCAR team owner. When you’re a driver, it’s you in a car. That’s all you’re trying to figure out. When you’re a team owner, that’s a different deal, but so is owning an Outlaws team compared to a NASCAR team. With the World of Outlaws Sprint Car team, you only have three guys working on the car versus the 163 guys that we have with two Sprint Cup teams at Stewart-Haas. Managing people and the resources that go with that is the biggest difference.”
Stewart-Haas Racing receives its engines from Hendrick Motorsports. All of the top teams have an in-house engine program. Do you ever envision creating an in-house engine program at Stewart-Haas Racing?
“I don’t see us making plans to do that. You look at Hendrick’s engine program, and I don’t think they’re lacking anything there. The last five years have proven that. I think you look at past experiences and you look at Darrell Waltrip’s experiences as a car owner, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that was the mistake he made was going from a program like that, which kept him where he needed to be, to thinking he could make it better by starting his own program. That actually led to the end of it. We’ve got a great partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, and I don’t see us straying off from their program and their engines. The opportunity to work with those guys and our input on top of Jeff’s (Gordon) and Jimmie’s (Johnson) and Dale’s (Earnhardt Jr.) and Mark’s (Martin) input that they have from their program. Being able to have our two cents worth in this program makes it better for all six of us.”
TONY STEWART’S LAS VEGAS PERFORMANCE PROFILE
Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led Earnings
2010 Shelby American 9 7 Running, 267/267 7 $167,923
2009 Shelby 427 10 26 Running, 283/285 0 $100,173
2008 UAW-Dodge 400 25 43 Accident, 107/267 6 $128,839
2007 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 25 7 Running, 267/267 0 $158,436
2006 ×UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 2 21 Running, 270/270 54 $142,036
2005 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 23 10 Running, 267/267 0 $147,891
2004 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 19 3 Running, 267/267 45 $219,603
2003 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 8 5 Running, 267/267 0 $162,753
2002 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 15 5 Running, 267/267 76 $153,953
2001 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 5 12 Running, 267/267 4 $86,875
2000 *CarsDirect.com 400 16 2 Running, 148/148 0 $221,250
1999 Las Vegas 400 20 36 Running, 184/267 0 $46,200
× Race length extended due to green-white-checker finish.
* Race cut short due to weather.