KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Tony Stewart is back in black. The No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS he drives for Stewart-Haas Racing is all black for this weekend’s Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
It’s a fitting paint scheme since Stewart is often lights out in Loudon. And the mood of Stewart’s competitors typically darkens whenever the three-time Sprint Cup champion walks into the Granite State’s garage area.
Stewart has a pole, three wins, 10 top-threes, 14 top-fives and 17 top-10s in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire. He has led a total of 1,218 laps around the 1.058-mile oval, second only to Jeff Gordon’s tally of 1,316 laps – but with eight fewer starts than Gordon. Stewart’s average start at New Hampshire is 11.2 and his average finish is 11.4. Stewart also has a NASCAR Nationwide Series win (2008) and an IZOD IndyCar Series victory (1998) at New Hampshire.
And in NASCAR’s brave new world of loop data analytics, Stewart has the best driver rating (111.7), the most laps led (887 laps or 18.6 percent), is the fastest driver early in a run (with an average speed of 125.683 mph), is the fastest driver on restarts (with an average speed of 121.045 mph) and is the fastest driver in traffic (with an average speed of 124.021 mph) in the last 16 Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire.
In addition to a sharp-looking Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Stewart also brings to New Hampshire a sharp-looking record. In five of the last seven Sprint Cup races leading into Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301, Stewart has finished in the top-10. Four of those finishes were top-fives. One was a win – June 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway – and another was a second-place finish – last Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Currently 10th in the championship point standings, Stewart is in his sweet spot of the grueling, 36-race Sprint Cup schedule. It’s hot and the tracks are slick – the ideal recipe for Stewart, who honed his talents sliding Sprint Cars sideways around dirt bullrings from the Midwest to the Southwest.
With plenty of sun and a high of 83 degrees with 64 percent humidity forecasted for Sunday’s race, it all plays into Stewart’s experienced hands. There may not be any dark clouds looming on raceday at New Hampshire, but there is one very dark racecar looming in the minds of 42 other drivers – the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS of Stewart.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is it about this time of year where you really excel?
“When it starts getting hot and humid and the tracks get hot and slippery, that’s what we like. When guys can’t hold it wide open and they can’t sit there on high-grip tracks and they actually have to drive these things – that’s when we start getting fast.”
What do you like about New Hampshire?
“There’s nothing trick or fancy about it. It’s just a fun track. It just seems like it’s always been a fun driver’s track. Your car has to work well there but when you get to racing guys – you’re trying to out-brake them, trying to get your car to turn and you struggle for forward bite. It’s just got a little bit of everything the drivers look for to have a good race.”
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.”
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.”
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."
One of the racetracks you own, Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, is hosting the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Wednesday, July 24. What is your role for the CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime’s “The Profit”?
“I’m going to be there. As much as I want to race, I want to make sure that we do everything we can to make it the best event possible. I’m excited about it. I can’t wait. I’ve been excited about it for months."
What do you think we will see with some of these drivers racing on dirt for the first time?
“It’ll be fun to watch guys who haven’t been on dirt try to adapt to it and learn it quickly. Some of these drivers have run dirt and some have zero dirt experience. And Eldora’s not the easiest track to go to the first time and try to learn, so it will be different, for sure. It’s definitely going to take some laps for some of these guys to get used to it.”