|Tony Stewart will drive a full Mobil 1 paint scheme for the final time Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway in the penultimate race of his 18-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. The three-time champion credits Mobil 1 for playing a role in not only the success of his career, but in his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) organization’s recent accomplishments.
“Our partnership with Mobil 1 has paid off over the years,” Stewart said. “Their engine oil, chassis lubricants, gear oil – even their power steering fluid – helped us in so many ways. It’s about reducing friction, heat and rolling resistance and, after looking up at the results, I’d say their stuff has done a pretty good job.”
Smoke isn’t just blowing smoke.
He matter-of-factly credits Mobil 1 products for his winning the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. After going to the back of the field twice during the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway that year, Stewart finally caught Carl Edwards with about a third of the race remaining.
Stewart explains the rest.
“The crew chief came over the radio and asked me to start saving fuel,” Stewart said. “I start saving fuel and I’m sitting there watching Carl Edwards get smaller and smaller, thinking, ‘I hope this works out.’ The reason we were saving is because of the efficiency Mobil 1 gives us. We were able to stretch our fuel mileage because of the lower resistance, and he couldn’t.”
Stewart stayed on the track while Edwards, who led 119 laps in the race, pitted. Stewart eventually pitted and that strategy, combined with a caution for rain, kept Stewart ahead of Edwards. In the closing laps, the duo put on one of the greatest shows in NASCAR history, finishing first and second leading to a points tie with Stewart winning the championship on a tiebreaker.
“Mobil 1 enabled us to save fuel and put us where we needed to be at that point in the race, then carried us to victory,” Stewart said. “Most of the world sees Mobil 1’s shiny paint scheme each week and that’s great, but we see them as more than that. We see them as a team member and a partner.”
In October, ExxonMobil extended the Mobil 1 brand’s sponsorship of SHR in a multi-year deal. Mobil 1, the Official Motor Oil of NASCAR and the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand, will have full primary sponsorships on SHR’s four top-tier series drivers – Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch – at various races throughout the year. The Mobil 1 brand will also remain an associate sponsor for all SHR drivers at all other races.
Since 2011, ExxonMobil has been providing lubricant technology support to the SHR team, which also helped Harvick earn the Sprint Cup championship for SHR in 2014. Stewart, who has represented Mobil 1 since the brand joined SHR in 2011, is retiring as a NASCAR driver at the end of the 2016 season. He will remain a Mobil 1 brand ambassador in his role as a team owner, as he co-owns SHR with industrialist Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation. Additionally, the Mobil 1 brand will be an associate sponsor of SHR’s new NASCAR XFINITY Series team for the 2017 season, where driver Cole Custer will run for rookie of the year.
Stewart has only Sunday’s Can-Am 500k at Phoenix race and the season finale at Homestead to earn his 50th career victory. Phoenix has often served as a bright spot for Stewart, who made his first start at the “Jewel in the Desert” in the 1993 edition of the famed Copper World Classic. A mere 21 years old at the time, Stewart was competing in the season-opening USAC Silver Crown race, an event for which he qualified second to former IndyCar veteran Davey Hamilton. After leading 31 of the 50 laps, Stewart eventually finished second to Mike Bliss, who later went on to win the 2003 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
Six years later, Stewart returned to Phoenix yet again with rookie status but, this time, in the elite Sprint Cup Series. While the rookie label was applicable to Stewart in NASCAR’s premier division, it was anything but when it pertained to Stewart’s history at Phoenix. Prior to 1999, Stewart had raced USAC Midget and Silver Crown cars, Supermodifieds and Indy cars on the relatively flat, mile oval carved into the hillside of the Estrella Mountains. Stewart knew every inch of the track and, after starting 11th in the 43-car field, he took the lead for the first time on lap 87. He would go on to lead three times for a race-high 154 laps en route to the win, his second of three Sprint Cup victories that rookie season.
In the 17 years since winning in his first Sprint Cup start at Phoenix, Stewart has put together a record that, in addition to the win, includes eight top-five finishes, 12 top-10s, 551 laps led and an average finish of 14.0. And he’s done it all while being the model of consistency, completing all but 46 of an available 8,412 laps for a completion rate of 99.5 percent.
That record, combined with his Mobil 1 advantage and a more-than-familiar racetrack, could make for an exciting weekend in the Arizona desert.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on ExxonMobil?
“They are the largest company in the world, so having ExxonMobil with us is definitely a huge benefit, but the technology that they bring – it’s one thing to have a partner and a sponsor that can help support the projects that you need to be successful on the track. But, when you have somebody like Mobil 1 that can actually add to the technology side of your program and can physically help you make your racecar go faster, you can’t put a value on that.”
How long have you been racing at Phoenix?
“I started racing there in ’93, when I ran a USAC Silver Crown car. And since then, I’ve run USAC Midgets, Indy cars, Super Modifieds, Xfinity Series cars and, of course, Sprint Cup. So, I’ve logged a bunch of laps there. To think that it all kind of started at Phoenix, I guess you could say it’s the place where my career came full circle.”
What did the Copper World Classic mean to you when you were growing up?
“It was everything. Take what it’s like for us in the Sprint Cup Series to get ready for the Daytona 500 – that’s what it was like to come out to Phoenix for the Copper World Classic. As soon as the season was over, everybody got ready and started getting cars built for the Copper Classic. You literally built cars that were basically one-off cars, so to speak, just to run the Copper Classic. You put extra time, extra detail in them. It was the big one, for sure.”
What is your greatest story about racing at Phoenix?
“It’s hard because there are so many great moments. The first time I drove a Supermodified there, I think we were running 22-second or 23-second laps around there. One year, Ryan (Newman) and I had a great race where I was having motor trouble all day. I couldn’t seem to get the car off the corner. It stumbled a lot but, halfway down the straightway, it would come to life and I could use the draft following Ryan to get caught up. He ended up having an issue with two laps to go and we won the race. I remember another time in one of the early Silver Crown races I ran at Phoenix where I think we ran fifth to Jac Haudenschild. Jac was sideways all the way down through the dogleg on the backstretch. I would pass Jac through the corners and then, down the straightway, here he would come with smoke coming off the right-rear (tire). I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s tire is never going to make it.’ He made it to the end and he finished either third and I ran fourth, or he was fourth and I was fifth. That was one of coolest moments for me.”
Did you take an immediate liking to Phoenix in 1993 when you ran there in USAC?
“When we ran the USAC cars out there, it was pretty cool because I had never gone that fast before. It’s just one of those tracks where, to run a Midget and a Silver Crown car there, it definitely got your attention. It was pretty fast.”
How did you transition from one type of racing to another?
“It’s more fear than anything that I was going to have to get a real job if I wasn’t successful. That’s the great thing about running USAC and being in Indiana, where not only did we have winged Sprint cars and non-winged Sprint cars, Midgets and Silver Crown cars, we ran on dirt tracks one night and pavement the next. We ran Modifieds and Late Models. There were just so many things to drive around there that you learned how to adapt, and you learned how not to have a preconceived notion about how a racecar is supposed to feel and drive. You learned to read what the car was telling you as far as what it liked and disliked, and learned how to change your driving style accordingly. Especially at Phoenix, every car we’ve driven there, even though the track’s the same, they all drove differently. You just had to adapt to it and learn to read the racecar instead of thinking this is what the car I ran last night felt like and it’s supposed to feel like this today. It doesn’t work that way.”
How did you get so much experience at Phoenix before you raced there as a Sprint Cup rookie in 1999?
“Me and Arie Luyendyk were the two lead test drivers for Firestone when we were in the IndyCar Series. We spent a lot of time in Phoenix because the weather is so good out there all year long. We would spend three days out there tire testing and we had two or three of those sessions through the winter. I got to spend a lot of time running around Phoenix. I got to know every line around the track that’s ever been run and why it’s been run.”