The Inside Line: 'Smoke' fired up about Eldora, Indy
07/22/2014 1:51 PM
07/22/2014 1:55 PM
(SportsNetwork.com) - As a driver, team owner and track owner, Tony Stewart is in the midst of a very busy week with his obligations at Eldora Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Smoke" is on the go, beginning with Wednesday's Mudsummer Classic Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora, a half-mile dirt track he owns in Rossburg, Ohio. Stewart is not competing in the truck race there but has his share of responsibilities as the event promoter. It's the second time the series will run at Eldora. Austin Dillon won the inaugural race last year.
After Eldora, Stewart heads to Indianapolis for his home race -- the Brickyard 400 -- this weekend. His hometown of Columbus, Indiana is about 50 miles south of the famed 2.5-mile speedway. He is a two-time winner of the Brickyard 400 (2005 and '07).
"It is a long week," Stewart said. "It's kind of cool to be back in my stomping grounds and getting ready for a busy week at Eldora. It's almost like two weeks in one for me. Eldora is enough to cause you enough stress to last you for the rest of the year, and then going to the Brickyard, that's a big race for me as well. It's a lot in one week."
Stewart generally has a lot on his plate every week -- from driving the No. 14 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series to being a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and owning a racetrack. He's also active in extracurricular racing.
While Sprint Cup took its final break of the season this past weekend, Stewart returned to sprint car racing for the first time since he broke his right tibia and fibula during an accident in the Aug. 5, 2013 sprint car event at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Stewart needed three surgeries to repair his leg injury, and he was sidelined for the final 15 Sprint Cup races of the '13 season.
Stewart competed in two sprint car races during the weekend. He won the winged sprint car event at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Michigan on Friday night and then finished third in Saturday night's race at Crystal Motor Speedway in Crystal, Michigan.
"It felt great," he said. "It wasn't a World of Outlaw race or a big paying race by any means, but there were some good cars there that we had to race to win, and we got a little bit of luck. Actually, we were probably going to run second, but a guy late in the race got pushed off the track by a lap car, so we got a little bit of luck there. But it just felt good to get in one, period, and just run again.
"This [past] weekend the Outlaw series was in Pennsylvania, so that's probably the toughest place in the country to try to go back. It's probably the toughest race to go to, period. Pennsylvania has tough weekly shows, let alone with the World of Outlaw there, so I didn't feel like that was probably the best place to try to go back for the first time."
Stewart, now 43 years old, plans to run in more sprint car races in 2014 but not as many as he originally hoped. Last year, he had planned on competing in more than 100 events (NASCAR, sprint car, etc.) during the season.
"I've got some more [sprint car races] on my schedule," he said. "Not as many as I was originally wanting to run, but I think I've kind of worked with Zippy [Greg Zipadelli, director of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing] and sat down with our management and just trying to pick some places that we knew might not be quite as high risk as others because of speed and everything. So we tried to pick some tracks that we thought might be a little slower. And there are some races on there that I really have my heart set on running, but I've tried to be smart about where we're going."
Heading into the Brickyard 400, one of the most prestigious races on the Sprint Cup schedule, Stewart sits 19th in the point standings. He has yet to win this season. There are seven races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, and five spots remain in the 16-driver "NASCAR Chase Grid."
Stewart has 48 career wins, but the three-time Sprint Cup champion has not been to victory lane since June 2013 at Dover (42 races ago). He would love nothing more than to end his long winless drought at his home track in Indy.
"I hope it would be the perfect place -- if you can't win the Daytona 500, this is the perfect second to get your first win for the year," Stewart said. "We were one of the teams that did the Goodyear test a couple weeks ago, and we felt like our car was pretty quick. I was pretty excited about that. It's just a matter of going back and trying to keep that speed in the car."
Since getting back into a race car for the first time in February at Daytona International Speedway following his leg injury, Stewart has been dealing with some pain and continues with physical therapy. Stewart has said that he doesn't feel any discomfort when he's in the car.
"I still deal with pain every day, but that is something that's not even going to probably go away by the end of the year," he said. "The reality of it is there might be a point where it will never totally go away, but it doesn't keep me from doing what I love to do. I don't feel pain in the race car. I haven't from Daytona on through even this past weekend."
Stewart's teammates, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, are virtually guaranteed of making the Chase. Harvick (currently ranked 13th in points) has two wins this season, and Busch (25th in points) has one victory. SHR driver Danica Patrick is presently 27th in the standings.
Stewart feels confident he'll qualify for the Chase. Eleven drivers have won a race during the regular season, and Stewart hopes he'll be the 12th this weekend at Indy.
Should he not win during the 26-race regular season, then Stewart would need to be in a points position to make the Chase. Right now, five drivers -- Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers -- stand in front of Stewart for the 16th and final spot on the Chase grid. Larson holds the 16th position. Dillon is next in line, followed by Biffle, Kahne, Vickers and Stewart.
"Mindset-wise, there is nothing that is different other than we just need to -- as much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we're kind of in a position where we're close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that," Stewart said. "It's kind of a double-edged sword right now."
Stewart's best finish this season is fourth, which came in March at Bristol. He has finished in the top-10 just twice in the last seven races.
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