KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 16, 2015) – The field for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is set, and the 16 drivers competing for this year’s championship will garner the bulk of the attention for the next 10 weeks. That’s not to say, however, that the drivers outside the Chase aren’t prepared to steal some of the spotlight.
Tony Stewart is one such driver, and he’s no stranger to stealing the show despite being out of title contention.
During the next 10 races, there is plenty of opportunity to make headlines. Recapturing the consistency that made him a three-time Sprint Cup champion and getting back to victory lane are at the top of the to-do list for the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). Sunday’s MyAFibRisk.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois is the perfect place to start.
When it comes to racing at Chicagoland, no one has been better than Stewart. He leads all drivers at the track in the most important category – wins, with three.
Stewart started the winning at Chicagoland in 2004 – the fourth-ever Sprint Cup race at the 1.5-mile oval – when he led a race-high 160 laps, including the final 27 circuits. Three years later, he followed it up with yet another dominating performance, leading a total of 108 laps and scoring the win from the 19th starting spot.
It’s the most recent win on the outskirts of the Windy City, however, that is the most significant for Stewart, who won his series-leading third race at Chicagoland in 2011 after stretching his fuel mileage over the final 52 laps to earn the victory. While the win placed him in the lead of the Chicagoland wins category, it wound up being just the first of his five wins in 2011 – all of which came in the 10-race Chase. The 40th victory of Stewart’s Sprint Cup career sparked his drive to a third Sprint Cup title as he became just the second driver to win the championship after winning the first Chase race, joining Kurt Busch, who accomplished the feat in 2004.
And Stewart has done more than just win when it comes to racing at Chicagoland. In his 13 Sprint Cup starts at the track, the Indiana native has scored a pole, four top-twos, five top-threes, eight top-fives and has finished outside the top-10 only three times. His 434 laps led ranks him third in that category, just behind Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth with 577 and 437, respectively. Additionally, Stewart averages a 9.2 finish, has completed all but 11 of the 3,474 laps run in his 13 races there, and has only once failed to finish a race at Chicagoland – a 33rd-place result in the track’s inaugural event.
While Stewart has a proven record at Chicagoland, so too is his “Chaseless” record. Despite the disappointment of just missing the Chase in 2006, Stewart buckled down and went on a championship-worthy tear, winning three of the final 10 races that season, including back-to-back victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Stewart may be out of the running for the 2015 Sprint Cup title, but he’s never shied away from the spotlight and is always in contention when it comes to stealing the show.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
With three wins, four top-twos, five top-threes and eight top-fives, you have a pretty good track record at Chicagoland. What’s made you so comfortable at that track?
“I think I’ve always been good there. You look at the past and we’ve had some weird events. On Fridays, I’ve had two events where I’ve crashed in practice. The first time (2004), Hermie Sadler blew a motor and, before the caution came out, I crashed in his oil and went to the hospital and I missed the rest of the day. And then, the very next year, I blew a tire in practice and J.J. Yeley had to qualify for me. It’s one of those places where, as long as I get through Friday, I feel like we’ve got a shot at it. But I don’t watch the stats very much. You just take it week to week. Technology in this sport changes so fast. What was good the last time you were there doesn’t mean it’s going to be good the second time around. You constantly have to work. You’ve got to keep pushing the envelope. It’s a place I like. This place is really racy as far as being able to move around and change lines and run anywhere from the bottom to the top. It’s a fun track because of that.”
Talk about what it’s like racing in Chicago.
“It’s fun for me. I grew up four hours south of Chicago and didn’t realize how much fun downtown was until I actually got to go up there through NASCAR. It’s a beautiful place and, being there for some of the Chase activities, we’ve been able to spend some time there to do some stuff on our own. It’s neat to walk around and just see the things in the city.”
The Chase is starting at Chicago, so there’s a lot that happens around that race. You’ve had quite a bit of experience with that in your 17-year Sprint Cup career. Does that make it fun for you?
“It’s actually fun and that’s one of the things you certainly miss being on the outside. The thing I probably remember most about last year is a bunch of the guys went out after it was over and – for a lot of them because we have so many obligations up there and the married drivers that have children didn’t have their kids up there – they were all excited because they all got to go out and do stuff. I remember when I started and a bunch of these guys didn’t have kids and it’s stuff we used to do, anyway. It is a lot of fun. It’s the calm before the storm and doing the media stuff before we actually get started.”
How important is Chicago when it comes to the Chase?
“Chicago is a huge race from the standpoint that it really can set the tone for the next nine weeks after that. It’s not critical to get a great start there. I mean, if you don’t have a good start, it doesn’t mean you can’t recover from it and win, especially with the way the Chase is set up now. But, if you have a solid finish that first race of the Chase there, it really gets that 10-week stretch kicked off in the right way. You can carry that momentum.”