KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – With a win and a second-place finish in his two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races last year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Tony Stewart proved to be rock solid in the Granite State. That his win was his third career Sprint Cup victory at the 1.058-mile oval and fifth overall, as Stewart has a NASCAR Nationwide Series win (2008) and an IZOD IndyCar Series win (1998) at the “Magic Mile”, proved that the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet is wicked good at New Hampshire.
The team he co-owns with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas is also wicked good. Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), in just its third year of operation, dominated at New Hampshire in 2011, particularly during the team’s July visit.
Stewart qualified second to his teammate, Ryan Newman, and then finished second to him in the race, giving SHR a 1-2 start and finish in the same race, something that hadn’t been done since Hendrick Motorsports started 1-2 and finished 1-2 in the 1989 Daytona 500. Making the moment even more memorable, however, was that SHR’s performance was the first time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the samedrivers in the same order since DePaolo Engineering did it on April 7, 1957 at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. There, Fireball Roberts won from the pole, while teammate Paul Goldsmith started second and finished second. (In Hendrick’s instance, Darrell Waltrip won, but started second. Ken Schrader started from the pole and finished second.)
When SHR returned to New Hampshire in September, Newman again won the pole, but it was Stewart who found victory lane.
Stewart led only the final two laps after the previous leader, Clint Bowyer, ran out of gas just before taking the white flag of the 300-lap race. It was the fewest laps-led total for Stewart in a race in which he won. His previous lowest laps-led total was five laps in October 2006 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
The outcome was ironic, for in that same race one year earlier, the roles were reversed. Stewart was the leader, but he ran out of gas on the last turn of the last lap. The victor was Bowyer.
“Man, what a way to win it. Such an irony from last year where we ran out of gas coming to the finish,” said Stewart from victory lane. “You hate to see anybody lose it that way, but you’ll take a win any way you can get it right now.”
Right now, Stewart is tied with Brad Keselowski for the most wins this season, as each driver has three. But with Stewart having two second-place finishes, he wins the tiebreaker to become the current No. 1 seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins in just eight weeks.
Stewart is a lock for his eighth Chase appearance since the inception of the Chase in 2004. His three wins already give him nine bonus points to start the Chase (three bonus points for each win), and the more wins Stewart knocks down before the Chase begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., the more bonus points he’ll have to defend the title he earned last year when he roared to his third Sprint Cup championship by winning five of the season’s final 10 races.
It was an epic performance that those in New Hampshire would call “wicked good”.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your performance last year at New Hampshire, as well as Stewart-Haas Racing’s overall performance, was pretty impressive. What was that like and how do you follow it up in your return to New Hampshire?
“Loudon was awfully good for us last year. To start 1-2 and finish 1-2 in this race last year, and then to come back in the fall and have Ryan (Newman) win the pole again and for us to win the race, it really doesn’t get much better than that. When you run that well someplace, you love coming back. We had a dream weekend last July at New Hampshire and, really, a dream year. Now, we’ll just try and duplicate it.”
Explain a lap around New Hampshire.
“It’s a big motor deal. 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.”
What makes New Hampshire unique?
“It just has long, sweeping corners. The corners in comparison to where we normally race, we’re used to having a lot of banking, but New Hampshire is pretty flat. It’s one of those tracks where you’re either fighting entry-loose, entry-exit and nice in the center, or you’re fighting tight in the center and you’re good on entry and good on exit. It’s a juggling act trying to get the car balanced for all three sections of the corner.”
Because New Hampshire is a difficult racetrack, are some drivers beat before they even make a practice lap because they have a negative outlook about the racetrack?
“It certainly doesn’t help if someone has a bad attitude going in there. It kind of puts a strike against you, but I’m not going to say that you’re already beat. There are tracks that I’ve been to that weren’t my favorite tracks, but I still found a way to win there. You’ve just got to stay focused and work hard to find what it takes to be good.”
Is New Hampshire a good place to race?
“Obviously, I like it because I’ve had success there. But at the same time, it’s a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it’s hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you’ve got a good car, it’s always fun to race.”
While you’ve won at New Hampshire, you’ve also had races where you’ve struggled. How can one race weekend turn out great and another turn into one you’d rather forget?
“If you miss on something it can be a miserable day. 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 there 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.”
You’ve started among the top-five nine times and among the top-10 16 times in your 26 previous Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire. How important is starting up front?
“It doesn’t mean anything if you wreck or if you have a problem. You can start in the back and get there. It’s just a lot harder to do it. It makes it a lot easier when you start second and you only have to pass one car. But starting up front is good for pit selection, and having good pit selection is half the battle.”
TONY STEWART’S NEW HAMPSHIRE PERFORMANCE PROFILE
|2011||Lenox Industrial Tools 301||2||2||Running, 301/301||48||$210,633|
|Sylvania 300||20||1||Running, 300/300||2||$254,083|
|2010||Lenox Industrial Tools 301||25||2||Running, 301/301||2||$206,598|
|Sylvania 300||3||24||Running, 300/300||100||$119,848|
|2009||*†Lenox Industrial Tools 301||1||5||Running, 273/273||40||$134,548|
|Sylvania 300||2||14||Running, 300/300||52||$100,973|
|2008||*Lenox Industrial Tools 301||28||13||Running, 284/284||132||$132,211|
|†Sylvania 300||8||8||Running, 300/300||1||$131,561|
|2007||Lenox Industrial Tools 300||14||12||Running, 300/300||0||$126,136|
|Sylvania 300||6||3||Running, 300/300||39||$173,186|
|2006||×Lenox Industrial Tools 300||5||37||Running, 285/308||28||$121,636|
|Sylvania 300||32||2||Running, 300/300||0||$220,686|
|2005||New England 300||13||1||Running, 300/300||232||$283,986|
|Sylvania 300||1||2||Running, 300/300||173||$233,636|
|2004||Siemens 300||9||5||Running, 300/300||0||$126,178|
|†Sylvania 300||4||39||Accident, 83/300||16||$104,813|
|2003||New England 300||8||22||Running, 300/300||0||$104,528|
|Sylvania 300||32||20||Running, 299/300||0||$107,278|
|2002||New England 300||12||39||Accident, 121/300||1||$89,803|
|*New Hampshire 300||10||3||Running, 207/207||0||$138,328|
|2001||New England 300||25||5||Running, 300/300||0||$77,800|
|†New Hampshire 300||5||5||Running, 300/300||0||$83,300|
|2000||*New England 300||6||1||Running, 273/273||156||$164,800|
|Dura Lube/Kmart 300||16||23||Running, 297/300||0||$57,600|
|1999||Jiffy Lube 300||10||10||Running, 300/300||118||$55,715|
|Dura Lube/Kmart 300||5||2||Running, 300/300||40||$114,790|
* Race cut short due to weather.
† Qualifying canceled due to weather, starting position set via car owner points.
× Race length extended due to green-white-checker finish.