Stewart Seeks More Magic
By: Dave Rodman on July 16, 2011 | 10:35 A.M. EST
Stewart will start second on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)
Tony Stewart returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 holding the 11th position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. He’s two points outside the top 10, and a guaranteed berth in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Stewart, who will start second at NHMS, is also riding a 24-race winless streak dating back to Auto Club Speedway last October. He needs a return to Victory Lane to enhance his potential to make the post-season field. If we are to believe the history books, this weekend’s race might provide an answer to both the points and victory questions.
Stewart has been able to coax magic from the “Magic Mile.” Although his last Loudon win came in this race six years ago, the front of the field has been a common position for “Smoke” here. He has led 366 laps in the past seven New Hampshire races, while tallying three top-five and six top-15 finishes in those seven races.
Although Stewart finished second in this race last year, it was by no means an easy accomplishment.
“It was a long day,” Stewart remembers. “We started 25th and got in the top 10 on our first run, but when we came in to pit, we didn’t get enough fuel in the car. So, it put us 30-something laps out of our fuel window. The next two runs went green all the way, which made us have to short pit, which also meant on our next run we had to stay out on older tires longer than everybody else. When you pit early like that, you have to catch all of these lapped cars and cars that are slower than you and you just burn your tires off getting through there to make up some of the time that you’re losing because you’re a lap down. We just fought all day, constantly having to work our way from the back to the front.”
Last September, things went from bad to worse, as the gas tank on the No. 14 Chevrolet went dry in the final turn of the final lap. What appeared to be a slam dunk victory, turned into a 24th-place finish.
“I wasn’t happy, that’s for sure, but we went down swinging,” Stewart said. “It’s hard to lose one that way, but at the same time, it was fun racing Clint (Bowyer) like that. He did a good job of saving fuel and I didn’t do a good job. It was a tough way to start the Chase, that’s for sure. I would’ve settled for second. If you know exactly how much gas you have, it would be different, but you never know. It’s part of the sport and always has been. It’s what makes it exciting when you never know until the last lap what’s going to happen.”
Since Stewart has seen both success and lack of success at New Hampshire, his approach this weekend is clear.
“It’s a big motor deal,” Stewart said. “With the corners being so tight, you’ve got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too, so it’s hard to get up off the corners. Then you’ve got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it’s hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again.”
But at the end of the day, the driver of the Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet knows that balance could be the deciding factor on whether his day was a good one or bad one.
“If you miss on something it can be a miserable day,” Stewart says. “It seems like you don’t see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That’s what makes a day miserable when you miss. It’s just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front.”
Stewart topped the second practice session on Saturday morning.