Driver’s getaways help dissipate Cup frustrations
Nate Ryan @nateryan USA TODAY Sports
Mired in the worst start of his Sprint Cup career, Tony Stewart has left several NASCAR tracks in an unhappy mood after final practice on Saturdays this season.
The three-time champion has returned to the garage Sundays in a chipper and jovial mood.
It has everything to do with how well his car is running — but not the one that pays the bills at Stewart-Haas Racing.
When Stewart scurries off to a dirt track somewhere in America on every Saturday night, his demeanor changes instantaneously when reconnected with the grass roots of Sprint Cars — something crew chief Steve Addington notices with each increasingly positive phone call and text message from his driver.
“He gets in a good mood and comes in Sunday more optimistic,” Addington told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s big for the team to see that. He cuts up with the guys when he has those good nights.”
Making this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup will require a kick-start for Stewart, who is ranked 22nd — five spots lower than his previous worst through seven races in 2001 — with a best finish of eighth. Adding-ton thinks dirt racing helps sharpen Stewart’s restarts in NASCAR. “He picks up on little things,” he said.
This weekend’s getaway while NASCAR visits Kansas Speedway is Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway, which Stewart co-owns with Bob Sargent and Ken Schrader. After practicing and qualifying at Kansas, Stewart will aim for his fourth World of Outlaws victory today. He captured his first in July 2011 while in the midst of a summer slump that he rebounded from to win his third Cup title after nearly missing the Chase.
As his own boss, Stewart, 41, is afforded the opportunity for the extracurricular activity, which sometimes was frowned upon and curtailed when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing from 1999 to 2008. It was one of the
perks of becoming his own boss as a co-owner of the No. 14 Chevrolet four years ago.
“It’s like hitting a reset button for me,” he said. “It’s a lot of effort, a lot of money and a lot of time to do all this, but it’s worth it. I’m in a fortunate position where I have the resources to do it, but I also don’t have a wife and children. I have a German shepherd who doesn’t care where we go. ... It’s my release.”
Stewart has enjoyed plenty of solid results while moonlighting with more frequency for the second consecutive season. After running 90 total races between NASCAR and Sprint Cars last season, he is on pace for 100 in 2013.
This past Sunday, Stewart erased the memory of a frustrating 21st at Texas Motor Speedway with a top-10 in a winged Sprint Car race at Susquehanna Speedway Park in York Haven, Pa. A week earlier, he escaped a frustrating weekend at Martinsville Speedway by jetting to Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway, where he set a track record, won a heat and the main feature at a track he hadn’t raced before.
Such nights help assuage the disappointment in Cup for Stewart, who was 17th at Martinsville the next day.
A turnaround for Stewart will depend on improving the Chevrolets at Stewart-Haas. He has lobbied for increasing the teamwork with Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies the team’s chassis, engines and technical support for the No. 14 as well as for teammates Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick.
At Kansas, Stewart has two victories and finished fifth in October in the track’s first race since a resurfacing.
“When we find out what we’re missing, we’ll go on a roll with it,” Addington said.