Posted: 27 Apr 2011 10:40 PM PDT
Photo by Jerry Markland - Getty Images for NASCAR
KANNAPOLIS, N.C., – The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming stop at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway (RIR) couldn’t come at a better time for Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing.
The two-time series champion has three Sprint Cup wins and two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories at the three-quarter-mile oval, and when not winning, Stewart is at least vying for the win, as his four second-place finishes, seven top-threes, nine top-fives, 15 top-10s and 817 laps led in 24 career Sprint Cup starts can attest. And beyond a Sprint Cup car and a Camping World Truck, Stewart has wheeled a NASCAR Nationwide Series car and USAC Midget and Silver Crown entries at RIR.
Needless to say, Stewart has logged plenty of laps at the Virginia short track, and most of the time it’s been at or near the front of the field.
A return to those up-front ways is what’s needed for Stewart after five straight finishes outside the top-10 have dropped him from first in points to 12th. And while there are 17 races before the Sprint Cup Series returns to Richmond in September for the cutoff race that seeds the top-12 drivers in the Chase for the Championship, Saturday night’s Crown Royal 400 presents the best opportunity for Stewart to reassert his championship chances.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
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’s the key to being successful at Richmond?
“You want to make sure your car is adjustable. We start the race at the end of the day, when it’s usually pretty hot but, as night comes, the track cools down and it changes quite a bit. Old pavement, new pavement – the same theory applies, and that’s not something you see at most of the races we go to. It’s pretty much isolated to just the night races. You’ve got to have adjustability because you know for a fact that the track isn’t going to stay the same all night long.”
Is Richmond similar to any other tracks you’ve raced on in your career?
“It just reminds me of some of the shorter tracks that I’ve run. It has kind of the same feel that three-quarter-mile tracks did with some of the other cars I’ve run with. It was like Phoenix the first time I went there. I hadn’t been to a 1-mile oval but once in my life, but when I got onto Phoenix, I adjusted and adapted to it really quickly. It was a place where I became very comfortable right away. I had that same feeling when I went to Richmond for the first time. I think every driver has a track they go to where they get that same feeling. There are just some places you go to where you adjust, and it really suits your driving style.”
Short tracks seem to suit you well. Would you like to see more short tracks added to the schedule?
“Well, they haven’t built any new ones yet. Everybody that wants to build a mile-and-a-half track are the ones we look at and wonder why they’re doing that, especially when Richmond is as good a race as it is and Martinsville and Bristol are as good as they are. You have three of the best tracks on the circuit, but everybody wants to build a mile-and-a-half track and put grandstands down the front of it and not put as many seats as you can around places like Richmond, Martinsville or Bristol. You can get just as many people around a smaller track and have more room to park them and everything else. I’m all for it. I’m sick of seeing guys build mile-and-a-half tri-ovals. Be creative, be unique. Build something that is your own. Don’t copy somebody else’s track.”
DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Do you look at Richmond as simply one race among 36 races, or do you take a two-pronged approach with what you’ve got to do now, and what you’ve got to do 17 races from now, as Richmond is the final race of the regular season before the Chase begins?
“Absolutely. We’re taking some of the lessons we’ve learned even at some of the intermediate tracks. At Richmond, we’ve got two good, long practices and we’ll be able to go and do some major changes. We’ve got some stuff we’re planning to try that we hope works out and carries us to the end of the year, when we come back to Richmond to secure a spot in the Chase.”
Richmond is a home race for you, as you grew up in Virginia in the tiny town of Floyd. Richmond is also the site of the press conference that was held in September 2008, when you were announced as Stewart’s crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing. Do you pay attention to any of that, or do you put all of that on the shelf and not worry about it and just attack it like it’s any other point-paying race?
“We do attack it like it’s any other race, but it’s also a special place in my heart, because it is in Virginia, a couple hours from home, and the place where we did the announcement. But it’s also a special place for me because we know how well Tony’s run there in the past. He’s got a very strong, long history there. It was pretty cool to see the way he’s been able to run there in the past. You know we better be on our ‘A’ game when we get there. We’ve got to be ready to give Tony a car he can drive because we know he can get around that place. It’s a little bit of extra pressure, as well. We’re using it and, hopefully, we can take that to the front.”
Had you been to Richmond as a fan or had you worked on any teams before you became a mainstay in NASCAR?
“No. I’d only actually been to Richmond for the Late Model races. I hadn’t been to a single Cup race until I actually started working for a Cup team. The very first time I was there was the last time it had Armco barriers and then, after that, it was the new configuration we’re running, now. It was just amazing to take our little Late Model team up there to that big, monster three-quarter-mile oval. It felt like you were racing with the big boys when you showed up to that place after they re-did it.”
TONY STEWART’S RICHMOND PERFORMANCE PROFILE
Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led Earnings
2010 Crown Royal Heath Calhoun 400 18 23 Running, 300/400 2 $108,623
Air Guard 400 15 16 Running, 399/400 0 $110,573
2009 Crown Royal Russ Friedman 400 16 2 Running, 400/400 0 $172,773
Chevy Rock & Roll 400 29 17 Running, 400/400 0 $93,473
2008 ×Crown Royal Dan Lowry 400 15 4 Running, 410/410 0 $157,911
†Chevy Rock & Roll 400 8 2 Running, 400/400 23 $205,461
2007 Crown Royal Jim Stewart 400 22 8 Running, 400/400 1 $127,236
Chevy Rock & Roll 400 7 2 Running, 400/400 27 $207,986
2006 Crown Royal 400 18 6 Running, 400/400 0 $139,661
Chevy Rock & Roll 400 40 18 Running, 399/400 0 $124,961
2005 Chevy American Revolution 400 3 2 Running, 400/400 143 $204,611
Chevy Rock & Roll 400 25 7 Running, 400/400 0 $126,711
2004 Chevy American Revolution 400 28 4 Running, 400/400 59 $127,478
Chevy Rock & Roll 400 15 19 Running, 399/400 0 $105,433
2003 *Pontiac Excitement 400 9 41 Accident, 223/392 0 $98,748
Chevy Rock & Roll 400 14 27 Running, 397/400 0 $100,283
2002 Pontiac Excitement 400 3 1 Running, 400/400 28 $185,653
Team Monte Carlo 400 14 30 Drive Train, 396/400 34 $88,478
2001 Pontiac Excitement 400 7 1 Running, 400/400 93 $150,175
Team Monte Carlo 400 33 7 Running, 400/400 0 $62,205
2000 Pontiac Excitement 400 7 8 Running, 400/400 69 $49,350
Team Monte Carlo 400 14 6 Running, 400/400 5 $55,130
1999 Pontiac Excitement 400 30 15 Running, 399/400 0 $27,225
Exide NASCAR Select 400 2 1 Running, 400/400 333 $136,160
× Race length extended due to green-white-checker finish.