Stewart Goes for Two at Auto Club

Stewart 608

After 18 tries, Tony Stewart finally got to hold up a Winner's Trophy at ACS last October. (Photo: Getty Images)


It took 18 attempts before Tony Stewart could take his first win at Auto Club Speedway last October. After losing the Sprint Cup point lead at Bristol, this weekend’s Auto Club 400 would be a good time for Stewart to regain lost momentum by picking up his second straight win at Fontana.

It’s no secret that Stewart is hungry for another victory, especially after getting close to the winner’s circle in three of the first four races this season. After contending for most of the day at Daytona, he got shuffled out of the draft, producing a disappointing 13th-place finish. He led four times at Phoenix until his strategy was blown by an unexpected late-race caution. Stewart finished the race seventh. He dominated at Las Vegas, building a four-second lead that was erased by a miscue in the pits. He ended the day in second.

Although there’s a half-mile difference in the length of the two tracks, Stewart’s Vegas performance could provide an indication of his chances at ACS. Both tracks like lots of horsepower and are aero-sensitive. Stewart admits that racing at Fontana can be a challenge.

“The track is good and it’s racy but man, it’s difficult,” Stewart believes. “The seams are slick. The racetrack is slick. It’s not an old track, but it sure races like an old, worn-out track. It’s just a very difficult place to get a hold of and if you can get your car balanced, you really can drive away from the majority of the field and get a pretty big gap there. But it’s hard to do. You have to have that balance perfect. Somebody is going to get it right. I mean, somebody gets it perfect every time we go there.”

Unlike prior years, Sunday’s race is 400 miles instead of 500, and Stewart is good with the decision.

“There are a lot of 500-mile races in this age and era of sports where you’re fighting to keep the fans’ attention,” Stewart explains. “A 400-mile race is going to be every bit as exciting, if not more, than a 500-mile race. So it will give everybody a chance to get home a little bit earlier and I think it’s just better for everybody. You don’t have to have 500-mile races to put on good shows. We’ve run 300 laps at Loudon (N.H.), we’ve run 300 laps at Phoenix and they are always good races. None of these races are endurance races anymore, anyway. So a 500-mile race going to 400 miles is a good thing.”

Crew chief Darian Grubb and the Office Depot Chevrolet team will be using the same chassis that won at ACS last October. Grubb says the major change is the Impala’s new nose, and he is not worried.

“It’s a complete overhaul based on what we had last year,” Grubb says. “Last year was an evolution through the season as things went on. We got our cars better and better and better. This year, with the new nose, we took another step toward that and spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel. I feel like we had a pretty good baseline going into this year. We’ve had three chances to win on a speedway, a one-mile and a mile-and-a-half, so we feel pretty good about our program right now.”

Motor Racing Network will have live coverage of the Auto Club 400 Sunday at 2:00 PM (ET) on your local MRN station, and on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio 128.

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