KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (March 25, 2015) – Tony Stewart’s love of competition is in a league all its own. It’s what drove him to strap into a go-kart as a seven-year-old and it has continued to fuel his racing career in the decades following.
Matching Stewart’s passion for sport is his commitment to giving back. Through the Tony Stewart Foundation, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has spearheaded various projects and events to raise money for and bring awareness to causes ranging from childhood disease to animal welfare. It’s the latter of those interests that led to a partnership with Code 3 Associates, with Stewart carrying its colors on his No. 14 Chevrolet SS this weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Code 3 Associates (www.Code3Associates.org) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to providing professional animal disaster response and resources to communities, as well as providing professional training to individuals and agencies involved in animal-related law enforcement and emergency response. Since launching in 1985, the mission of Code 3 Associates has remained the same – to provide hands-on animal rescue and care operations during disaster events in the United States and Canada, and through certified animal welfare training seminars, which include animal cruelty investigation training for officers.
The continued operation of Code 3 Associates relies totally on the generosity of donors and the bravery of its responders, which is why Stewart knows delivering a strong run at Martinsville is the best way to deliver for Code 3 Associates. It’s a call to action that will go a long way toward fulfilling two needs.
The start of the 2015 Sprint Cup season has been difficult for Stewart, with accidents and mechanical maladies conspiring to leave him outside the top-30 in points entering the sixth race of the season at Martinsville. Stewart was buoyed, however, by a solid, 14th-place finish last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. It was his best finish of the year and, ideally, a precursor to better results.
As Stewart said from pit lane following the race in Fontana, “We’re gaining on it a little chunk at a time. We didn’t need to get it all today, but this is a big gain for us.”
A big gain could ironically be found at NASCAR’s smallest track. Martinsville Speedway is a .526-mile oval. Shaped like a paperclip, its flat, tight corners are connected by two dragstrip-like straightaways that promote rigorous racing. It’s often survival of the fittest.
Stewart hasn’t just survived at Martinsville, he’s thrived. Three of his 48 career Sprint Cup wins have come at the Virginia track, as have three of his 15 career Sprint Cup poles. Stewart has finished among the top-10 in half of his 31 Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville, and his 1,226 laps led tally is third among active Sprint Cup drivers.
And when Stewart needed the biggest momentum swing of his Sprint Cup career, he got it at Martinsville.
It was October 2011 and Stewart was chasing Carl Edwards for the Sprint Cup championship. In order to make any ground on Edwards, Stewart had to win. He did just that at Martinsville, taking the lead on a restart with only three laps remaining and holding it to the finish. It proved to be a pivotal victory, as Stewart climbed to second in points, eight behind Edwards, prompting Stewart to memorably say in a live victory lane interview that aired on network television, “Carl Edwards had better be really worried. That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to have an easy three weeks.” Stewart went on to win the championship three races later in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Stewart’s run to the 2011 Sprint Cup championship was epic, and the sprint to that championship began at Martinsville.
Now Martinsville serves as another pivotal venue for Stewart. Currently outside of the top-30 in points, Stewart needs to be among the top-30 in order to be eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. And upon entering the top-30, Stewart needs to win a race in order to secure a spot in the 16-driver Chase.
A win and advancement into the top-30 don’t all have to come at Martinsville, but another solid performance like the one delivered last Sunday in Fontana does. Another little chunk needs to be gained.
In Stewart’s last race at Martinsville in October, he finished fourth. A similar result would be a good-sized chunk that could carry Stewart and his No. 14 Code 3 Associates-backed team through the Easter off-weekend and into another important venue – Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Martinsville, like Code 3 Associates, represents a call to action. For two results-driven entities – one based in philanthropy and the other entrenched in competition – Code 3 Associates and Stewart are bullish on 500 laps around a .526-mile bullring.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
When you first came to Martinsville as a 27-year-old rookie back in 1999, what did you think of the track?
“I looked at it and thought, ‘I can’t believe they race stock cars here.’ It’s what I was used to from a Sprint Car and Midget standpoint. I had seen it on TV, but the first time you’re here, you think, ‘This is really small,’ and you realize how close quarters it is. Back then, the noses on the cars were slanted and the rear bumpers were really high, and if you touched somebody you turned them around easily. Now, our bumpers match up better. You don’t wreck somebody right off the bat. But if you hit them enough, you will.”
Martinsville is a very unique track. What’s it like to race there?
“Even on the bad days, it can be fun. And when you have a good day, it’s great. The grandfather clock you get for winning is one of the cooler trophies in our sport. Normally, 20-year-old kids don’t get too excited about grandfather clocks, but you realize it’s more than that at Martinsville. There’s a lot of pride and lot of history with this sport at Martinsville.
“One thing about Martinsville is there is no lack of excitement. I don’t care how flawlessly your day goes, you’re going to bump into somebody at some point, even on a perfect day. You put 43 cars on this half-mile track and it’s always going to be exciting. You will never have a race there where you don’t have some sort of drama during the day. I think every driver will say they will have some drama at some point. When you have 43 drivers with 43 dramatic moments, that’s a lot of action going on.”
Martinsville is a throwback venue. How do you see its place in the sport?
“I don’t care how old it gets or how far down the road it gets, it’s not going to be a track that I ever see leaving the schedule. It’s got too much history, too much personality, and that’s what you see a lack of in some of these 2-mile and 1.5-mile tracks. At those places, you’re going to get strung out. You’re going to get away from people. But the fans really like to see us on top of each other. That’s what ensures the longevity of Martinsville – the action they’re going to see.”
Do you have a particular Martinsville memory that stands out?
“For a long time, we’d run really well there and hadn’t won a race, and then even after we’d won our first race, it took a long time to win our second. It’s a place where we’ve really run well at a lot. A lot of the races that were some of the most fun were races we didn’t win, but we ran in the top-five and had pretty good battles during the day. It’s a place where if you have a good driving racecar, it’s a blast to run, but if it’s off, it’s a long, long day. You don’t think a half-mile track is physically demanding, but if your car’s not driving well, you’re pretty tired at the end of the day.”
Code 3 Associates is on your car this week. Talk about who they are and what they do.
“We’re honored to have Code 3 Associates as a partner with Stewart-Haas Racing. Whenever there’s a disaster, everyone wants to help, and it’s nice to know there’s an organization out there that takes care of a sometimes overlooked but very important family member – your pet. Taking care of animals has always been important to me, and when we started our foundation, we made animal welfare a priority. To be able to promote the work of Code 3 Associates so that it can do even more work for people and their pets is very satisfying.”