Tony Stewart hungering for Indy win
A year ago, Tony Stewart went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his home track, as a heavy favorite to win his third Brickyard 400.
In his first season with his own team, Stewart was the surprise of the season, having won two NASCAR Sprint Cup races – three counting the Sprint All-Star Race – and was sitting atop the series standings heading to Indy.
In half a season, Stewart had already exceeded all expectations for his first year as an owner/driver.
Season No. 2 has not gone exactly as planned.
After winning four points races and making the Chase for the Sprint Cup last year, Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing team have been a bit off this season.
After 19 races, Stewart is winless and ninth in points. At one point, he had fallen as low as 18th in the standings but has rallied with five top-10 finishes in the last six races.
Stewart, who has won at least one race in 11 consecutive seasons, is not shocked that his team has struggled this year. And he still believes his organization is headed in the right direction.
“I think we’re ahead of schedule of where we thought we might be,” he said. “It’s really hard to predict when you’re starting into a new deal like that. There’s no guarantee on what’s going to happen.
“Even having the resources that we have and all the equipment that we have, it’s still no guarantee that it’s all going to come together and work for you.”
Stewart admits that last season was a bit of a surprise. Despite having an alliance and close relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, his new team was not expected to shine in its first season.
This season, in fact, has gone more like last year was expected to. Teammate Ryan Newman won the April race at Phoenix International Raceway, but he has stumbled to 16th in the standings and is in danger of missing the Chase after making it last year.
Stewart, meanwhile, hasn’t won yet and still must scramble to make the Chase.
“Last year, we definitely exceeded our expectations for year one,” Stewart said. “This year hasn’t been quite as good, but Ryan has got a victory this year.
“From our side, we struggled a little bit. That happens year to year so I can’t say that this year is a failure because of that. There’s teams that were really good last year and struggling this year, and vice versa.
“It’s part of the evolution of it. It’s an ongoing process. You’re never happy with where you’re at. Even when you’re winning races, you have to constantly push to keep that edge and stay ahead.”
Stewart’s push usually comes during the summer months. Of Stewart’s 37 career victories, 26 have come in July or later, including his two Brickyard victories.
It would not be surprising at all to see Stewart put together a win streak in the next month, heading into the Chase.
Of the next three tracks on the schedule (Indy, Pocono Raceway and Watkins Glen International), Stewart has nine wins.
In particular, he has his sights set on Indy and another Brickyard 400 win. His first win there in 2005 was the highlight of his career, culminating in an emotional, memorable celebration in which he climbed the high grandstand fences at the famous track.
He climbed up on the wall and celebrated with fans again after winning in 2007.
A native of Columbus, Ind., Stewart would like nothing better than to return to Victory Lane at Indy – as a driver or a car owner.
“I go to Indy for one reason and one reason only,” Stewart says. “I am just so passionate about Indianapolis Motor Speedway and whether it’s (as) a driver or owner, the good thing is that I have two opportunities to have a shot to win at Indy.
“First and foremost, I want to win as a driver, but if we can’t do that and I can go to Victory Lane as a car owner, that would be just as special to be standing there with Ryan.
“It’s cool to have that opportunity.”