Indy homecoming offers Chase chance for Stewart
July 21, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
His prized Eldora Speedway hosting a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday and Tony Stewart set to go for a third Brickyard 400 win at his beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, the popular three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ is hoping to finish out the week as strongly as it began -- with a huge grin and a trophy.
"Well everybody loves good 'juju,''' Stewart acknowledged Monday during a teleconference with a laugh and a nod to his first victory in his first sprint car start this past weekend in Michigan -- coming less than a year after severely breaking his right leg in a sprint car racing accident.
"It was more than just a good way to start the week,'' Stewart continued. "It was a confidence boost for me. Dealing with when you haven't won, and you haven't been necessarily a contender to be in the top two or three each week and having those opportunities to win races this year, you start questioning what is it in the equation that you're missing. It's easy as a driver.
"We're all finicky when it comes to running bad and you sit there and start questioning if you're doing something wrong or if you're not adapting to the car, like I said, with the new rules package and everything, you start questioning what is it. Is it something that you're doing or not doing as a driver?
"To be able to go out and win on Friday night and ran third on Saturday night, and to have two good runs like that in a car that I haven't been in for almost a full year now, that was a huge confidence boost and made me feel like, hey, maybe we'll just meet and find something else."
The most pressing "something else" is a spot in the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Stewart will arrive in Indy ranked 19th in the standings and still looking for his first victory, his odds-on ticket into the playoffs. He's had only two top-10s (Dover and New Hampshire) in the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy since June began.
And with only a little more than a month to set the postseason field, Stewart said he has to be of flexible mindset. A win would be safest, but he is also in reasonable position to race his way in via points.
And while he's among a stellar group of surprise non-winners (Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, too), Stewart reiterated that despite his continuing physical therapy -- and the trace of a limp his walking still illustrates -- he is fine inside the race car.
"It's a new year, it's a new car, a new rules package,'' Stewart said. "I felt good in the car. There is nothing that's not felt good from day one. Even when we were at Daytona we felt comfortable in the race car, and there wasn't anything that was a distraction.
"So mindset‑wise, there is nothing that is different other than just as much of 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. It's kind of a double‑edged sword right now.
"Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk if you run second losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.
"We still have two shots at getting in the Chase, obviously, one being a win and the other being getting in there because of the points position.
So while the popularity of Stewart's Eldora dirt track has already drawn an A-list of entrants and sold lots of tickets for Wednesday's 1-800-CAR-CASH Mudsummer's Classic (9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), Stewart knows he's got a big task at hand on the famed 2.5-mile Indy oval where he first debuted as an IndyCar driver in 1996.
From the sprint car race in Michigan to Eldora in Ohio to Indianapolis -- near his hometown of Columbus, Indiana -- this has the potential to be a homecoming Stewart could tangibly use.
"It is a long week,'' Stewart said. "So 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's 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.''
And then again that's exactly how Stewart prefers it -- the busier the better. Or if a win this week is in the cards at Indy, the more dramatic the better.
"Every driver has a home race,'' Stewart said. "Some of the tracks that you go to twice, and Indy is one we get to go to once and this is our trip to it. Like I said, if you said, well, you can only win one race a year, I'm still going to pick a Daytona 500. But if you can't win Daytona one race a year, I want to win the Brickyard. Minus the fact the way the championship's done this year.
"It's a big deal. It's always big when you come home. It's always big when you have friends and family that don't get the opportunity to go see you race anywhere else but can be there and be there in person to watch and experience it with.
"So you're always going to run well."