In the next two weeks, Stewart the driver will race 11 sprint car — not Sprint Cup — races.
On July 24, Stewart the promoter and track owner will host the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race to be run on dirt, the inaugural CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime’s “The Profit” at Eldora Speedway.
In two weeks, Stewart the Indiana native will return to his beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he has twice won the Brickyard 400. To the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, the Brickyard is the single most important of the more than 110 races Stewart will drive in this year.
And this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Stewart the co-owner/driver of Stewart-Haas Racing has pressing business at hand, trying to solidify a place in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With just eight races left until the Chase field is set, Stewart is 10th in points and his teammate Ryan Newman is 16th. If Stewart wins a second race in the next eight races — he previously won at Dover International Speedway in June — he will in all probability lock himself into the Chase. If Newman wins one or more of the next eight races, he, too, has an excellent chance of making the Chase.
On the other hand, if the two stumble, the team could be shut out of the Chase for the first time in its still-brief five-year history.
The good news is that Stewart and Newman are each three-time winners at the flat 1.058-mile oval track in Loudon, N.H.
Two years ago at New Hampshire, Newman and Stewart qualified and finished 1-2, respectively, the first time one team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the same drivers in the same order since North Wilkesboro Speedway on April 7, 1957, when DePaolo Engineering’s Fireball Roberts won from the pole and teammate Paul Goldsmith started and finished second.
And, as usual, Stewart’s performance is heating up with the summer weather.
In the first 11 races of the year, Stewart had no victories or top fives, just one top 10 and an average finish of 21.09. In the seven most recent races, however, Stewart has one victory, four top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 9.57. Big difference.
Stewart the team owner said Thursday he’d rather see Newman win first.
“I would like to see Ryan get a victory,” said Stewart, speaking on a NASCAR teleconference. “If I had a choice, I would rather see Ryan get a victory right now, try to get two of the three (SHR) cars in the Chase.”
Stewart said he hopes to remain in the top 10 in points, so he doesn’t need to make the Chase via a wild card. “If we can stay 10th in the points, then we don’t need the bonus spot. … If we could stay where we’re at in the standings, I would more so want Ryan to win a race right now.”
The bad news is that SHR as a team has been wildly inconsistent for most of the 2013 campaign so far. And New Hampshire is notoriously a hit-or-miss track when it comes to chassis setups.
“If you miss on something, it can be a miserable day,” said Stewart. “It seems like you don’t see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That’s what makes a day there miserable when you miss. It’s just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front.”
Still, SHR tested at New Hampshire, which could play into the team’s favor.
As for the busy schedule, Stewart said it’s no big deal.
“From my side, I’m used to bouncing around a lot,” he said. “So Loudon is a good track for us. We’re looking forward to it, obviously. If we can have a good race there this weekend, that will be a lot of momentum to carry for two weeks to come to Indianapolis for the Brickyard.”