KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (July 3, 2013) – “Have you ever seen a flock of ducks flying in perfect formation? It’s beautiful. Pretty awesome the way they all stick together. Ducks never say die. Ever see a duck fight? No way. Why? Because the other animals are afraid. They know if they mess with one duck, they gotta deal with the whole flock. I’m proud to be a Duck, and I’d be proud to fly with any one of you. So how about it? Who’s a Duck?”
Emilio Estevez’s character Gordon Bombay delivered that speech in the popular 1992 sports comedy “The Mighty Ducks” in an attempt to encourage his team of young players to exercise a little teamwork, similar in style to a flock of ducks working in tandem to achieve a common goal. The result was a victory in the state championship match against the film’s antagonist team, the Hawks. The message was the modern equivalent of Greek philosopher Aristotle’s famous missive that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
With three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships to his credit, Tony Stewart knows a good bit about the importance of teamwork. And come Saturday night when he wheels his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Stewart and Co. aim to be “Mighty Ducks” when the checkered flag waves on the 160-lap contest. Stewart and primary sponsor Bass Pro Shops will exercise a little teamwork in bringing attention to Ducks Unlimited Inc., the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats.
Since 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across North America. At the organization’s national convention back in mid-May, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris presented a $76,000 check to CEO Dale Hall congratulating Ducks Unlimited on 76 years of conservation work. “Conservation is the only way we can ensure our grandchildren and their children will have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors like our generation has, and Ducks Unlimited has been promoting conservation for the past 76 years,” Morris said during the presentation. “It’s a tremendous organization with a great mission, and I’m proud to call myself a Ducks Unlimited member.”
And now Ducks Unlimited will share the hood of the No. 14 Chevrolet with Bass Pro Shops for this weekend’s annual Fourth of July weekend race at Daytona – an event in which Stewart is a four-time winner (2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012), including last year’s race when he led 22 laps.
During the 2012 edition of the Coke Zero 400, Stewart exercised a lot of patience, waiting to make his case for the win well past the race’s halfway mark. He took the lead on lap 131 and led 21 circuits before relinquishing the spot to the duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle on lap 152 when a massive crash set up a two-lap dash to the finish. Stewart regained the lead on the final lap with an impressive drive around Biffle and Kenseth off turn two and down the backstretch when another multi-car wreck brought out the caution, securing Stewart’s victory. The win was the 47th of Stewart’s 48 career Sprint Cup wins.
While Stewart doesn’t consider himself a fan of restrictor-plate racing, his stats tell a much different story.
In 29 career, point-paying Sprint Cup starts at Daytona, Stewart has a pole, six top-threes, eight top-fives, 13 top-10s and has led a total of 665 laps to go along with his four wins. He has an average start of 11.6, an average finish of 17.0 and has a lap completion rate of 90.9 percent.
Between Sprint Cup point-paying races, non-point events, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the defunct IROC series, Stewart has a total of 19 Daytona wins, placing him second on the track’s all-time win list, 15 behind Dale Earnhardt, who has 34 total victories at Daytona and is part of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2010. Additionally, Stewart has won at least one race at the 2.5-mile oval for the past nine years.
With all that he has accomplished and continues to achieve, it’s a cast-iron certainty that Stewart will someday join Earnhardt as a NASCAR Hall-of-Famer. Much like Earnhardt, Stewart’s philanthropic endeavors have become the stuff of legend. Throughout his career Stewart has taken the opportunity to “give back” quietly and often. If he can find a little success while promoting the good works of Ducks Unlimited this weekend at Daytona, he will prove that even in NASCAR, ducks fly together.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve had a long relationship with Bass Pro Shops and have a great appreciation for the outdoors. What does the Ducks Unlimited relationship mean to you?
“I love the outdoors and everything that goes into maintaining the outdoors. Nurturing the land is as satisfying for me as hunting and fishing. Giving back is something that drives me, be it in racing or with the outdoors. In order for racing to be sustainable, we have to have younger generations get involved. It’s the same with the outdoors. In order for hunting and fishing to be sustainable, our land and wildlife needs to be managed and maintained, and that knowledge has to be passed on from one generation to the next. Ducks Unlimited does a great job in that regard, and we’re proud to have them with us at Daytona.”
Restrictor-plate racing isn’t your favorite type of racing, but it is one at which you seem to excel, particularly at Daytona. What makes it frustrating?
“I wish I could explain it. I’m certainly not any happier about it than I’ve always been, but we have had a lot of success at restrictor-plate tracks, especially Daytona. I’m glad we’re halfway decent at it, but it’s still always frustrating when you have to rely on what everybody else does. It’s not what you do. It’s what you do along with somebody else who decides that they’re going to follow you and help you. That’s the part that frustrates you as a driver. The great thing about restrictor-plate racing though is that 43 cars all have the same shot at winning the race, but again, that’s also part of what makes it frustrating, too. It’s just being at the right place at the right time. Last year, when those last two big wrecks happened at the end of the race, we were in the right spot. We were ahead of the wrecks both times.”
Talk about winning last year’s Coke Zero 400.
“The biggest challenge was Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle because when they hooked up, I didn’t think there was anybody that could beat them. But we were able to stay in touch with them, and I got a great restart with Kasey Kahne helping me. We just had to try to separate Matt and Greg. Once we got them pulled apart, I think Matt tried to reconnect with Greg, and we carried enough momentum to get back around in front of him and get down on that bottom line. I tried to back up to Matt to make sure they didn’t get a huge run on us. They were coming on the outside in (turns) three and four and the last wreck happened, and we were just fortunate enough to be leading still.”
When you’re in the draft, how much control do you feel you have inside the racecar?
“It depends on the circumstances. You can’t see the air and you hit different pockets (of air). You hit a pocket where you get a real big tow or you hit a pocket where it seems they’re getting a tow and pulling you back, and you just have to play the circumstances. You just try getting in different scenarios and try to learn if you get in the middle of the draft, what does it do? Will it give you a push? Will it not give you a push? If you get next to this car, does it suck you up or does it slow you down? It’s trial and error, but at the same time, it’s like pulling a pin on a grenade. You know through that process that if one guy makes a mistake, the car’s torn up for the race. It’s just a delicate balance of how hard you go, how many things you try, and how much time you spend doing it.”