KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Nov. 1, 2016) – He’s won three championships and 49 races in 18 years of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. He’s also earned countless victories and titles on short tracks across America in nearly every form of racing imaginable. But few things have touched Tony Stewart like the honor he’s to receive this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, when the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver makes his 28th and final appearance on the 1.5-mile oval.
Stewart will have his own bobblehead doll.
“I don’t know that I ever aspired to or ever thought my career would be complete until I got a bobblehead,” Stewart said with an ever-so-slight tinge of sarcasm. “But now I’ve got one, so now my life is complete.”
The bobblehead is the brainchild of track president Eddie Gossage as part of “Tony Stewart’s Last Ride at Texas Motor Speedway.” The facility is going to hand out the Stewart bobbleheads to the first 30,000 fans who come to Sunday’s AAA 500.
Stewart reviewed the bobblehead and offered his artistic critique.
“Unfortunately, it does look like me – that’s the scary part,” said Stewart, who also accused Gossage of cutting costs by mounting his oversized head on a skinnier model’s body. “I think people are going to put them in the corners of their house to keep the insects and mice away. It will scare everybody and probably ward off intruders.”
Stewart and the track have a long relationship dating back to his IndyCar Series days. Stewart last visited Texas Motor Speedway in late September for his annual “Smoke Show” fantasy camp with fans benefitting Speedway Children’s Charities. There were 21 campers from eight states and Canada. Stewart has raised more than $1.5 million since the event’s inception in 2008 and plans to continue doing it on an annual basis even though he will no longer be a full-time Sprint Cup driver beginning in 2017.
Still, Texas won’t be all fun and games for Stewart, who arrives at the ultra-fast track after finishing 26th at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last weekend. He hopes to climb from 14th to 13th place in the standings before the season ends in three weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stewart would also like to earn his 50th career Sprint Cup victory in one of the final three races before his future Hall of Fame career comes to a close.
Texas could be the place. He owns two poles, two wins, eight top-three finishes, 12 top-fives, 23 top-10s and has led a total of 183 laps in his 35 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas. His average start is 13.0, his average finish is 12.6 and he has a lap-completion rate of 96.7 percent.
Does Stewart dream of winning the 50th at Texas?
“I’ll take it anywhere,” he said with a laugh.
It would cap a successful final year in Sprint Cup racing during which he missed the first eight races recovering from a January off-track accident. He hasn’t missed a beat since his return, posting five top-fives and eight top-10s in 25 races. Stewart also returned to victory lane in June on the road course at Sonoma (Calif.) International Raceway.
The remainder of the 2017 season carries the promise of more possible rewards for Stewart than his driving career alone. His SHR team has drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in the Round of 8 of the Chase for the Championship playoffs with the hopes either could give the team its third championship since its inception in 2009. The team co-owned by Stewart and Gene Haas has earned 36 victories in 816 races.
Sunday will mark the final time Texas will see Stewart race in the Sprint Cup Series, if fans arrive early they’ll take home a Stewart bobblehead and if they stay to the end they’ll, hopefully, get to see one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers take home a trophy.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is your best Eddie Gossage story?
“That cannot be told in public. He’s a great friend. I’ve owned Eldora Speedway (in Rossburg, Ohio) for 10 or 11 years, now, and he’s been the greatest mentor from that side. He is so well-rounded, has vision and looks outside the box. He makes you think about things you wouldn’t normally think about. That’s been a big key to our success with our racetrack.”
Your thoughts about Texas Motor Speedway?
“The track is a great track. Eddie is smart enough to know that repaving this track is the worst thing he could do to it right now. This track has enough age on it that, when it is hot and slick, everybody is racing all over the track and that makes good racing. They treat everybody well here. I think this is the second- or third-biggest purse of the year for us and the crowd here is awesome. It’s a great, great market for our sport.”
Texas is a track where you’ve been consistently good. What makes you so comfortable there?
“You have to be comfortable, or you’re not going to go fast. The more comfortable I am, the faster we go. This track – the grooves have moved around, especially in the last couple of years. We’ve seen the track get wider and it’s made it to where you can move around on the racetrack and where you can run the top side or the bottom side. It’s nice from a driver’s perspective to be able to have that flexibility behind the steering wheel, knowing that if your car’s not driving exactly the way you want it to, you can move around the racetrack and find a spot the car likes better.”
You’ve logged a lot of laps at Texas.
How has the track developed since those early years?
“Anytime you put more seasons on a racetrack, the better it gets because it seems like the pavement wears out on the bottom and it makes it to where you can run the top and be fast, and you can run the bottom and be fast. It makes the whole racetrack, speed-wise, about the same, versus when they pave a racetrack and the only groove is right on the bottom. The fastest way is the shortest way because it all has the same amount of grip, so the shorter distance is faster. Every year we come here, I think the racing just gets better and better, as far as being able to move around on the racetrack and guys not having to just follow each other and get stuck behind each other. You can actually pass. You can race. You can get away from guys if your car’s fast.”
How have you been able to adapt to the Texas layout?
“I’ve found that you can pass anywhere, really. If you get a guy who misses the bottom of the corner and he bobbles, you can get around him. But even if someone doesn’t make a mistake and you’ve got a little better car than they do, the groove has moved up enough over the years to where the track’s a little wider, so you have more room to get a run on a guy. But, as the tires wear out and grip goes away, drivers will make mistakes and a car’s handling will become more important. And, when a guy makes a mistake, you need to be there to capitalize on it. You can really pass anywhere as long as the right opportunity comes up.”