KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (May 13, 2015) – Believe it or not, Tony Stewart’s first win as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) came six years ago in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Stewart didn’t lead the most laps in that memorable first victory for SHR, but he led the most important ones. Stewart paced the final two circuits around the 1.5-mile oval after overtaking Matt Kenseth for the lead on lap 98 of the 100-lap event. Stewart’s margin of victory over the 2003 Sprint Cup champion was .971 of a second.
The victory was the first for a driver/owner since Ricky Rudd won a point-paying race in October 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. It was also the first All-Star Race win for Stewart, who had six top-10 finishes in 10 previous All-Star starts. Stewart became only the second driver/owner to win the All-Star Race, joining Geoff Bodine, who accomplished the feat in 1994.
Since then, Stewart has gone on to notch 16 more victories (15 point-paying wins and the 2012 Budweiser Duel). But that All-Star win in 2009 felt as good as another notable first for Stewart – his first career Sprint Cup victory on Sept. 11, 1999 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
When Stewart finally earned career Sprint Cup win No. 1 at Richmond, he quickly followed it with two more wins in the next eight races. And when Stewart nabbed his All-Star win in 2009, he backed up that victory by collecting four more wins in the 18 races that followed.
In every year Stewart has competed in the Sprint Cup Series, he’s competed in the All-Star Race, as he raced his way into the event by winning the transfer race as a rookie in 1999.
As Stewart prepares for his 17th All-Star Race in his 17th Sprint Cup season, the driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Arctic Cat Chevrolet SS seeks to recapture the momentum his All-Star win from six years ago brought the No. 14 team.
With no points and a $1 million payday on the line, the All-Star Race is an event that satisfies both the driver and owner. So, it’s tailor-made for Stewart.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Arctic Cat Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The 2009 season was your 11th in Sprint Cup, but your first as a driver/owner. How much of your win in the All-Star race was a sense of relief and how much of it was a sense of exhilaration?
“Well, we’d been running well before the All-Star Race, but I don’t think any of us had an expectation of when we thought we’d win a race. I felt in my heart that the team was capable of winning a race in the first year at some point, but I never would’ve dreamed it was going to be one of the biggest races of the year, especially in our backyard. I think that’s really what made it so big – that it happened much sooner than a lot of people anticipated. There were a lot of people that didn’t know what to think about what we were trying to do. I think it really sent a message about how dedicated our organization is to being successful. It kind of quieted a lot of the naysayers and a lot of people that were on the fence trying to decide if I’d made a good decision or not (to become a team owner). I think standing there on the stage and getting the check was a pretty good statement.”
What stood out the most about your win in the All-Star Race?
“Probably the best part was the fact that it was the first chance that Gene (Haas, co-owner) had gotten to come and watch the team run. For him to come to the track and the first night out, go to victory lane – that was a pretty cool welcome back party for him. That made it a huge night for the organization to be able to have everybody there and not feel like somebody got left out. Everybody was there and present for it. Guys that don’t get a chance to come to the track, get to come to the track that weekend. So, it was cool to get guys in victory lane for the first time.”
What’s the best thing about winning the All-Star Race?
“Well, the greatest thing about it is, if you win the thing from a car owner’s standpoint, which I now know very well, it’s a great way to pay bills. It helps that out quite a bit. This weekend’s a fun event. It’s not a typical Cup race, by any means. The format is strictly set up for an exciting finish for the fans. It’s cool. It’s a big deal when we come to Charlotte and it’s not because of anything more than the fact that the guys who work at the shop everyday and don’t get a chance to go to the racetrack, they get a chance to go to Charlotte. They get to come see their racecars that they work on during the week. Instead of just watching them on TV, they get to be there, they get to see what the road crews are doing, and they get to be there first-hand. And that’s a big sense of pride if you have a good night. And to be able to celebrate with guys who never get to go to the track, if you can win a race at Charlotte, it’s big. This weekend, we’re racing for $1 million. That’s definitely nothing to pass off lightly.”
Because the All-Star Race is a non-points event, does it take on the same kind of importance as a regular, point-paying race?
“It’s an event for the fans and that’s something that’s very important to us, but there’s a lot of bragging rights, too. Charlotte is an area where 95 percent of the Cup teams are based, so when you go there, you want to run well. You’re able to have guys come from the shop that don’t get a chance to travel. They don’t get a chance to come to the racetrack very often and see the fruits of their labor, so for them to come to the All-Star Race and see their cars run, especially when you have a good night, it really pumps up your organization. You do it for your fans, but at the same time, you do it for your organization and your team. That’s why the All-Star Race is important.”
Can the All-Star Race be used as a test session for the Coca-Cola 600?
“Absolutely. It always is. If your car is driving well, you’re running for $1 million. But if your car isn’t driving well, you’re learning from that and applying it to the 600 instead. I’ve always looked at it as however your car is driving in the All-Star Race is relatively true to how your car is going to drive in the 600. It’s a really good test because it’s really the only time we have to run at night in race conditions.
“At the same time, the style of racing is very different. Guys that run well in the All-Star Race will run well in the Coke 600, but they’re not going to beat and bang like they might in the All-Star Race.”