Stewart’s Turn to Shine?
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 4, 2014 | 8:00 A.M. EST
In 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas dating back to 1999, Stewart has scored a pole, six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in addition to his two wins. (Photo: Getty Images)
Stewart-Haas Racing has scored victories in two of the season’s first six races with Harvick winning at Phoenix and Busch taking the checkered flag last week at Martinsville.
Stewart’s next shot at equaling the accomplishments of his teammates comes in Sunday’s first visit of the to Texas, a track where the three-time Sprint champion has won twice before. The high-speed, 1.5.-mile TMS oval has always been a favorite of Stewart who has a high comfort level racing there.
“You have to be comfortable or you’re not going to go fast,” said Stewart. “The more comfortable I am, the faster we go. This track, the grooves have moved around, especially in the last couple of years. We’ve seen the track get wider and it’s made it to where you can move around on the racetrack and where you can run the top side or the bottom side.
“It’s nice from a driver’s perspective to be able to have that flexibility behind the steering wheel, knowing that if your car’s not driving exactly the way you want it to, you can move around the racetrack and find a spot the car likes better.”
In 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas dating back to 1999, Stewart has scored a pole, six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in addition to his two wins. He’s led a total of 727 laps – third-best among active Sprint Cup drivers – and has completed all but 105 of the laps available to him for a lap completion rate of 98.6 percent.
But like all tracks, Texas has changed since it first hosted NASCAR back in 1997 and Stewart believes time has made it even better.
“Any time you put more seasons on a racetrack, the better it gets because it seems like the pavement wears out on the bottom and it makes it to where you can run the top and be fast and you can run the bottom and be fast. It makes the whole racetrack, speed-wise, about the same, versus when they pave a racetrack and the only groove is right on the bottom,” Stewart explained. “The fastest way is the shortest way because it all has the same amount of grip, so the shorter distance is faster.
“Every year we come here with our Mobil 1 Chevy, I think the racing just gets better and better, as far as being able to move around on the racetrack and guys not having to just follow each other and get stuck behind each other. You can actually pass. You can race. You can get away from guys if your car’s fast.”
The wide open spaces of TMS is another reason why it’s one of Stewart’s favorites. The sweeping corners and multiple lanes around the track provide opportunities to pass at nearly every point around the track.
“If you get a guy who misses the bottom of the corner and he bobbles, you can get around him,” said Stewart. “But even if someone doesn’t make a mistake and you’ve got a little better car than they do, the groove has moved up enough over the years to where the track’s a little wider, so you have more room to get a run on a guy.
“But, as the tires wear out and grip goes away, drivers will make mistakes and a car’s handling will become more important. And, when a guy makes a mistake, you need to be there to capitalize on it.”
Stewart hopes there will be an opportunity for him to take a third career Texas checkered flag and make it a trio of SHR wins early in the 2014 season.