KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (June 12, 2013) – Home court. Home turf. Home field. All are terms used when explaining the psychological advantage that exists for home teams competing in traditional stick-and-ball sports. It’s a theory that doesn’t usually apply to teams competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
But the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn will be pretty close to a home game for Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). And given the roll the team is on, a little “home track” advantage may be just the perfect boost to keep the energy going.
Stewart and the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS team are riding a wave of momentum after earning their third consecutive top-10 finish last week at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Last weekend’s fourth-place effort at Pocono was preceded by a win at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. It was Stewart’s first victory of the 2013 Sprint Cup season and the 48th of his career. The victory also extended his streak of winning at least one race in each of his 15 years in Sprint Cup, the longest streak among active drivers. Since the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend, Stewart has climbed from 21st in the championship point standings to 13th, giving him provisional possession of the first wild-card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, as he is the only driver between 11th and 20th in points with a victory.
Now, SHR prepares for this weekend’s aforementioned “home game” for the three-car team.
The 2-mile Michigan track long has been known as the home track for the American automobile manufacturers competing in NASCAR. Chevrolet – in business for more than 100 years – is a cornerstone partner for SHR and has played an integral role in Stewart’s racing career. The brand’s iconic bowtie logo is as American as apple pie, and Stewart takes great pride in his longtime association with Chevrolet.
Aside from a one-year stint driving Toyotas for former team owner Joe Gibbs, Stewart has spent the entirety of his NASCAR career competing for one of the General Motors (GM) brands. He has been at his most prolific when behind the wheel of a Chevy. Of Stewart’s 48 career Sprint Cup victories, all but the 2008 fall race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway was scored while driving a GM-branded car – 32 racing for Chevrolet and 15 for GM’s now non-operational Pontiac brand. Stewart also has won all three of his Sprint Cup championships as a member of the GM family, so it’s easy to look at the upcoming race as a sort of homecoming.
Given Stewart’s penchant for wins during the summer, it could be quite the triumphant homecoming for the Indiana native, who has visited victory lane 23 times in his career during the months of June through August. He has one win at Michigan – in June 2000, his second season, after leading 13 laps. He’s scored 11 top-fives and 19 top-10s in 28 career starts at Michigan for an average finish of 11.9.
With the majority of teams competing in this weekend’s 400-mile race representing either Chevrolet or Ford, SHR isn’t the only team looking at Sunday’s race as a home game. But for Stewart & Co., the race is a home game squared.
Michigan also is a facility that is in the “backyard” for Detroit-based Quicken Loans, the race weekend’s title sponsor and an SHR partner. The nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender is in the midst of its third year as an SHR sponsor. Quicken Loans appears in the primary sponsor role for the No. 39 Chevrolet and driver Ryan Newman for 18 Sprint Cup races and is also an associate for the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team of Stewart and the No. 10 GoDaddy team of rookie Danica Patrick.
This year, Quicken Loans introduced its “Bring it Home” program, a national sweepstakes that awards five lucky fans the prize of having their mortgages paid for a month every time Newman finishes in the top-five. Fans simply need to visit www.qlracing.com to register. Newman hopes to make it two in a row for fans this weekend at Michigan by following up his fifth-place effort at Pocono last weekend with another top-five in Michigan’s Irish Hills.
Bringing it Home” is the gameplan for SHR this weekend at Michigan. If all goes as planned, the team will carry home some hardware, too.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
With your win at Dover followed by top-five finishes at Pocono for you and Newman, how much has morale improved during the last several weeks?
“It’s been great. We had two positive weeks in a row between the (Coca-Cola) 600 and Dover, and then things just kept rolling to Pocono. It’s one thing if one car runs well, but to have two or all three of us running well shows that we are gaining momentum. It’s not just one team. The whole organization is gaining momentum, and it was something we needed. Now it’s about maintaining it. I’m really proud of our group at SHR, and hopefully the success has quieted some of the rumors that there’s big drama at the shop for us. So getting that calmed down was as much of the problem as anything.”
Three top-10 finishes in a row and now comes Michigan – another intermediate track. What does this suggest for SHR for the upcoming race weekend?
“The good thing is we have the confidence of the last three weeks in a row. Hendrick horsepower has been huge. Having four of the top-five cars last week at Pocono proves that the Hendrick engine department really has been a factor. For Ryan and I to finish in the top-five – that is great for SHR. Danica (Patrick) got going better, too, so it’s improvement all the way through. For her first time at Pocono, I thought she did pretty well. We are just gaining on it. The good thing is all three of us are getting better at the same time. It really shows the work that SHR is doing.”
It’s been a year since Michigan was repaved. How much do you think the track will have changed during the course of the last year?
“It’s hard to say, but it should be better. Last year, once it cleaned off, it seemed like the track got to be pretty good. It was still a relatively one-groove track, but it got better as the weekend went on. Hopefully, the racetrack will continue on that path and continue to widen out. It was a lot racier than I thought it would be, right off the bat, so I’m anticipating it’s going to be even better when we get back on it this weekend.”
With the new pavement, the speeds at Michigan were very high – in the 200-mph range. It seems like speeds have been higher with the new car this year. Is that of any concern to you?
“I don’t think so. The safety of these cars has come a long way, and racetrack safety, too, with the soft walls. I don’t think you’re ever really concerned about it until something bad happens. But I’ve been to racetracks, and I’ve seen crashes at 60 mph that hurt people a lot worse than 160 mph. So I feel pretty confident with the safety package that we have, with both the racetrack side and with what NASCAR has done with the cars.”