Posted by SmokinNews on 2/24/11 • Categorized as Tony Stewart
By Jim Pedley
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
It’s pretty safe to say that few drivers enjoy racing at Phoenix International Raceway more than Tony Stewart. It’s even safer to say that there are not many drivers who have taken as many laps as Stewart at the dusty, quirky, desert track.
And it is super safe to say that no driver wants to win Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 more than Stewart, because for all his love and longevity at PIR, he has not won a Sprint Cup race there since his first Sprint Cup race there.
To some, Stewart is the face of PIR. A short-track legend out of Columbus, Ind., Stewart has raced—and raced well—about every kind of car imaginable at the 1-mile Phoenix flat track.
“I started racing there in ’93 when I ran a USAC Silver Crown car,” Stewart said. “And since then, I’ve run USAC Midgets, Indy cars, Supermodifieds, Nationwide Series cars and, of course, Sprint Cup. So, I’ve logged a bunch of laps there.”
“I probably know every line around the track that’s ever been run and why it’s been run.”
But knowing the track and winning at the track in a Sprint Cup car have been two different things.
Stewart will be making his 19th Cup start at PIR on Sunday. In his 18 previous starts, he has seven top-five finishes, he has led a healthy 327 laps (154 in his first race) and he has a highly-respectable average finishing position of 12th.
He has completed 99.8 percent of the laps of races he has started.
Three times he has finished second, the latest time being two years ago in the spring event when he led 19 laps and was edged by Mark Martin.
But there is just that one victory, which came 1999 when he was driving a Pontiac for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Stewart’s average finish in the last three starts at PIR is 21.7.
Still, Stewart always looks forward to getting to Phoenix to race Cup cars.
“Pretty cool,” is how he describes PIR and his history there.
Getting to Phoenix this weekend is particularly cool as NASCAR tweaked the schedule for 2011, with this Sunday’s event being the first after the season-opening craziness of Speedweeks in Daytona.
“I think everybody’s pretty worn out after being in Daytona for so long,” Stewart said. “Phoenix means a normal routine and a chance for the crew guys to get back to their families for a couple of days before heading to another racetrack.
“Daytona and Talladega have always just been two different forms of racing. With the draft being so important at those two tracks, it’s more of a team deal than an individual deal. What happens at Phoenix and the races after that has to be done on your own. You can’t help each other at Phoenix. You just have to go race.”
And hope that experience ends a long, painful drought in the desert for the two-time Cup champion.
“It’s always been a situation where,” Stewart said, “if your car is really good in (Turns) 3 and 4, you’re normally a little bit tight in 1 and 2, and if you get 1 and 2 really good, you’re normally a little bit too loose in 3 and 4. You do have to weigh the options and try to find that balance of which end of the track is more important to you. I do have a preference, but I don’t tell everybody else that. That’s what having all these years and these laps of experience there does for me. It’s the one secret variable that I try to use to my advantage.”
What: Subway Fresh Fit 500
Where: At Phoenix International Raceway
When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128
Track layout: 1-mile oval
Race distance: 312 laps/312 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 3:40 p.m. ET
2010 winner: Ryan Newman
2010 polesitter: AJ Allmendinger