Stewart Hopes To Make His Last Race At Kansas Memorable

Tony Stewart


Safe to say a good many race fans didn’t expect the kind of performance turned in by Tony Stewart during the 2016 season. He’d announced last year that his 18th season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series would be his final one before he devoted the rest of his career to team ownership and short-track racing across America.

After two frustrating seasons, conventional wisdom opined Stewart’s NASCAR swan song would be a nice story to occupy media before NASCAR’s late-season Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs began. Competitors and crew would reminisce with Stewart throughout the year about his three championships and 48 victories while tracks would present him with rocking chairs or other parting gifts each week.

Expectations might have been further tempered January when Stewart suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain-vehicle accident.

As Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers substituted for him, even Stewart, who attended all but one of the races while injured, said he didn’t know when 45-year-old bones would heal. Many speculated the point deficit from the missed races would be tough to surmount. Plus, he’d have to win a race – which he hadn’t done since June 2, 2013 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway – if he had any hope for making the Chase for the first time since 2012.

But Stewart climbed back in the No. 14 April 24 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and drove like he’d never missed time. Throughout the spring, Stewart ran well and started running better and better as the temperatures warmed. In June, he earned his 49th career victory by making a thrilling, last-lap pass at Sonoma (Calif.) International Raceway to end an 84-race winless drought. In the following months, Stewart began posting top-five finishes and top-10s on a regular basis. It was enough to secure a Chase berth few predicted could have been possible given the obstacles faced in 2016 by Stewart and his team led by rookie crew chief Mike Bugarewicz.

Stewart’s hopes for advancing to the Chase’s Round of 12 fell just 11 points short at Dover earlier this month and it appeared – some assumed – the team and Stewart could now cruise through the last few races of a glorious career and call it a season at the sport’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. But, to anyone who closely watched last Sunday’s 500-mile race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, it was obvious Stewart and his team are doing everything they can to secure a 13th-place finish in the season standings.

Despite barely cracking the top-20 in practice at Charlotte Thursday, Stewart qualified fifth. On race day, he dropped to midpack when a speeding penalty relegated him to 31st and a lap behind the leaders. It would have been an easy out to cite bad luck and cruise the rest of the way before finishing a lap down and striking another event off the ever-shrinking list of races left in his career.

Instead, Stewart and Bugarewicz kept working to improve the car and the No. 14 slowly crept up the scoring pylon before finally returning to the lead lap with just 82 laps left in the race. Stewart raced hard in the final laps despite gambling on a fuel conservation strategy that didn’t pan out when a caution flew with 25 laps to go. Over the final laps, Stewart wrung everything out of his car and crossed the finish line in ninth place for his eighth top-10 finish in 22 races since returning from injury in April.

Not the race report of a driver or crew counting the days until Homestead.

This weekend, with just six races left in his Sprint Cup career, Stewart makes his final appearance at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, where he’ll drive the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team. The 1.5-mile Kansas oval has been kind to Stewart, who owns two wins, six top-five finishes and nine top-10s and has led a total of 164 laps in his 20 career Sprint Cup starts there.

In May, Stewart led 12 laps at Kansas on his way to a 12th-place finish, making him one of the drivers with a chance to visit victory lane this weekend. If anyone doubts Stewart can win at Kansas or capture that coveted 50th career victory before the end of the season, they can just take a look at how often the doubters of Tony Stewart have been wrong in 2016.

They’d probably never count him out again.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1  Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is your favorite thing about racing at Kansas Speedway?

“The thing I like about going to Kansas is we have a lot of short-track fans in that area who watched me coming up through the ranks. When you are in the garage area and you are walking to your car, you hear people say stuff like, ‘I got to see you at Lakeside (Speedway) or I-70 Speedway, Sedalia Missouri.’ To have people there for a Cup weekend but appreciate what you did in your open-wheel career and got to see you then, that’s what makes Kansas really cool. It’s the people who are there.”

 

Both of your Kansas victories revolved around strategy – fuel mileage in 2006 and taking two-tires instead of four in 2009. How nerve-wracking were those races?

“They were always nerve-wracking. I don’t know that I really felt like I got around the track very well, but good pit strategy got us the opportunities to get in position to do something with it. I think the crew chiefs won those races for me, not me.”

Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Team Report

Round 31 of 36 – Hollywood Casino 400 – Kansas

Car No. 14:

Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing

 

Teammates: 

Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet SS

Danica Patrick, No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS

Kurt Busch, No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS

 

At Track PR Contact: Mike Arning with True Speed Communication (Mike.Arning@TrueSpeedCommunication.com)

Primary Team Members:

 

Driver: Tony Stewart

Residence: Columbus, Indiana

 

Crew Chief: Mike Bugarewicz

Hometown: Lehighton, Pennsylvania

 

Car Chief: Jerry Cook

Hometown: Toledo, Ohio

 

Engine Specialist: David McClure

Hometown: Sacramento, California

 

Engine Builder: Hendrick Motorsports

Headquarters: Concord, North Carolina

 

Spotter: Bob Jeffrey

Hometown: Bristol, Tennessee

Over-The-Wall Crew Members:

Front Tire Changer: Ira Jo Hussey

Hometown: Manchester, New Hampshire

 

Front Tire Carrier: Brett Morrell

Hometown: Windham, Maine

 

Rear Tire Changer: Chris McMullenHometown: Canton, Michigan

 

Rear Tire Carrier: Josh Sobecki

Hometown: New Kensington, Pennsylvania

 

Gas Man: James “Ace” Keener

Hometown: Fortuna, California

 

Jackman: Getty Cavitt

Hometown: Owensboro, Kentucky

 

Windshield: Justin Peiffer

Hometown: Lebanon, Pennsylvania

Road Crew Members:

 

Truck Drivers: William “Stump” Lewis and Rob Fink

Hometown: Linkwood, Maryland and Baltimore, Maryland, respectively.

 

Engineers: Lee Deese and Chris Chidgey.

Hometown: Rockingham, North Carolina and Gainesville, Florida, respectively.

 

Mechanic: Tony Silvestri

Hometown: Sylvania, Ohio

 

Tire Specialist: Russell Simpson

Hometown: Medford, New York

 

Shock Specialist: Dave Hansen

Hometown: York, Maine

 

Pit Support/Fuel Runner: Daniel Coffey

Hometown: Granite Falls, North Carolina

Chassis No. 14-1006
This is a new chassis.
Notes of Interest:
Saturday’s race marks Stewart’s 613th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and his 21st Sprint Cup start at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
• Stewart has career totals of 49 wins, 15 poles, 187 top-five finishes, 308 top-10s and 12,814 laps led in 612 Sprint Cup races.
  • His most recent Sprint Cup win came June 26 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
  • His last Sprint Cup pole came April 5, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
  • Stewart missed the final 15 races of the 2013 season, three races in 2014 and the first eight races in 2016.
• Stewart has two wins, 6 top-five finishes and nine top-10s and has led a total of 164 laps in his 20 career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas. His average Kansas start is 16.9, his average finish is 15.4, and he has a lap-completion rate of 98.9 percent.
• Stewart has scored top-10 finishes in eight of the 22 races he’s entered in 2016.
Kansas in May – Stewart earned a solid 12th-place finish in May in the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas, overcoming a nagging vibration emanating from within his No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS to lead 12 laps
Race Rewind, Part I: With little to lose and everything to gain in the 2006 Sprint Cup race at Kansas, Stewart was able to gamble that he had enough fuel to make the final 71 laps around the 1.5-mile oval. The gambled paid off as Stewart led the final five laps of the 267-lap race and coasted across the finish line with an empty tank to score his 27th career Sprint Cup victory and his third of the season, beating Casey Mears by 12.422 seconds. Out of the Chase for the first time in his career, points were disposable for Stewart. Eleventh was the best points finish he could earn, so gambling on fuel mileage was an easy call. Stewart went on to win two more races in 2006 – back-to-back triumphs at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Race Rewind, Part II: With heavy rain, along with thunder and lightning, pelting Kansas well past the halfway point of the 2007 Sprint Cup race, Stewart appeared to have his 33rd career Sprint Cup victory and his fourth win of the season locked up. Stewart was in the lead when a downpour forced NASCAR officials to wave the red flag and halt the event, which was originally scheduled for 267 laps.
Stewart had come from his 19th-place starting position to lead three times for 13 laps, and appeared ready to log his first win in the Chase and take a substantial lead in the championship standings. But after an almost two-and-a-half hour effort to dry the track, the race was restarted and what Stewart once thought was his was now fair game for the race’s other contenders.
Before the restart, Stewart pitted for tires and fuel and held onto the lead as other drivers followed his strategy. But when a multicar accident on lap 157 stacked up cars off turn two, Stewart had to get on the brakes hard to avoid getting collected. Stewart was able to dive low to escape most of the carnage, but not without some damage to the left-front corner of his racecar. As the field rode around under caution, the damage appeared cosmetic, and with track position at a premium, Stewart stayed on the racetrack. But once the race went back to green and Stewart returned to speed, the damage to the left-front fender proved troublesome as the crinkled fender rubbed against the tire each time Stewart dove into the corners.
On lap 175, the tire deflated, and while Stewart waved to the drivers behind him that he was slowing, it wasn’t enough. Kurt Busch came upon Stewart quickly and wasn’t able to maneuver away from his stricken machine. Busch’s bumper made contact with the rear of Stewart’s car, sending Stewart sideways into the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall. Stewart then slid down the apron and into the path of fellow Chase driver Carl Edwards.
• Race Rewind, Part III: With 29 laps and one final pit stop remaining in the 2009 race at Kansas, Stewart faced a dilemma. Two tires or four? When the No. 14 Chevrolet came to pit road under caution on lap 238 of the 267-lap event, Stewart took two tires rather than four and attempted to win the race off pit road. The strategy worked to perfection as Stewart beat Kasey Kahne back onto the track and then never gave up the point en route to the win, holding off a late charge from four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon in the process. Gordon, who had four fresh tires, worked his way up to second place, but could never really mount a challenge on Stewart, who won by .894 of a second.
• Race Rewind, Part IV: In the Sprint Cup Series’ trip to Kansas in June 2011, Stewart experienced what millions of Americans experienced throughout that summer – pain at the pump. Stewart led twice for 20 laps and was in contention to win his 40th career Sprint Cup race and third at Kansas before a late-race pit stop for fuel jettisoned him to an eighth-place finish.
“We didn’t get all the fuel in it to make it to the end,” said Stewart after recording his eighth top-10 finish in 11 career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas. “We had a problem getting the fuel in and we didn’t get it full at that second to last stop, so we had to pit there with about 10 to go.
“There’s nothing you can do. Our guys are doing a great job. They did a great job all day. We kind of had to roll the dice on the chassis setup. They did a great job of getting us there and making good, educated guesses. So, we had a really good car today.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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