KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (Aug. 19, 2015) – For the most part, the 2015 season has served as a paradox to Tony Stewart’s decorated NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career that includes 48 wins and three championships. The tide has seemingly been turning in recent weeks as Stewart has found the speed that’s eluded him for much of the season, turning fast laps in practice and qualifying sessions while also enjoying a streak of improved on-track performance in race situations.
Appropriately enough, the shift in Stewart’s 2015 campaign coincides with a trip to the track where Stewart has, in recent years, also experienced a bit of a renaissance – Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stewart will pilot his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race. It will be his 32nd career Sprint Cup start at the high-banked, half-mile oval in eastern Tennessee, and it’s a track that for the majority of Stewart’s 17 years in the Sprint Cup Series has served an equal amount of prosperity and frustration.
One win, a pole, four top-threes, seven top-fives, 10 top-10s and a total of 1,355 laps led exemplify the prosperity portion of Stewart’s Bristol equation. But on the flip side is a total of eight finishes outside the top-25 – most of which occurred when dominant runs were derailed. From 2008 to 2013, Stewart finished in the top-10 on only two occasions, with a second-place finish in the 2010 Food City 500 being the highlight.
The results of his last two Bristol starts, however, harken back to Stewart’s early years competing in Thunder Valley.
In the spring of 2014, Stewart rallied from his 37th-place starting spot to nab a fourth-place finish in the Food City 500 – a result that marked his first top-five effort of the season.
Fast forward to the 2015 edition of the Food City 500 where Stewart once again exhibited the tenaciousness that has made him a multi-time champion. After starting 21st and hovering between 12th and 15th for much of the race before finally cracking the top-10 through a combination of heady driving, pit strategy and good fortune, Stewart was able to outlast the attrition and foiled pit strategy that befell his peers to earn a sixth-place finish.
With a season that is showing signs of getting back on track for Stewart, it’s fitting he returns to venue where that’s already happened.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about your last couple of races at Bristol.
“If you come out of Bristol with a top-five, you’ve had a good day. When we were there in the spring, it was a decent run for us and the result of hard work on everyone’s part. Last year’s race was an even better day – we started 37th and wound up fourth. Track position was big, like it always is there. We were pretty strong at the end, but we just couldn’t run down the three guys in front of us. Overall though, I’m very happy with the way the last couple races at Bristol have played out for us.”
Even with those good finishes of late, you’ve had to work really hard at Bristol. You enjoyed success there early in your career, but the track has proven to be challenging. Why?
“It’s a track where we’ve struggled. We’ve led a lot of laps there but we just don’t have the wins to show for it. It’s a track I definitely like. Everybody goes, ‘How can you like it when you’ve not had any success there for a while?’ To me, that’s just motivation. It gives us the ambition to be successful.”
What stands out during your years of racing at Bristol?
“It’s a hard race to win. It only takes one minor incident to screw up your day. You would think being a short-track race that if you have a great car you can get there, but normally one small mistake will take that opportunity away from you. Seems like you have better odds of something happening that keeps from you winning than you do of actually winning.”
Can you summarize your history at Bristol?
“Bristol is one of those places where you’ve got to have everything kind of go your way. If you have one hiccup, it’s hard to recover from it. We’ve only won one race there and we’ve kind of been all over the board. It’s been feast or famine for us. It’s like if you have one problem in the first half of the race, it’s hard to recover from it. It makes for a very long day. We’ve had more long days than good days.”
What do you enjoy most about racing at Bristol?
“I’ve always liked that the crowd is right there at the edge of the track – all the way around it. You can just feel the excitement from the fans. The fans that go to Bristol are passionate about racing. And whether they like you or hate you, they love their racing at Bristol. I’d say the fans are the best part of Bristol. It’s just a cool place and a cool atmosphere, and it’s because of the fans.”