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Stewart opts to lean on Newman at Martinsville

October 25, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Tony Stewart has never allowed himself to let his gaze get too far ahead of the ground his race car's wheels are covering. So with Martinsville Speedway on the horizon for the Sprint Cup Series, don't expect anything much different from the two-time Cup champion.

Stewart limped into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but roared out of the gate by winning the Chase's first two races -- his first wins this season. He staggered to finishes of 25th and 15th before scoring consecutive top-10s that put Stewart fourth in the standings, 19 points behind Carl Edwards with Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski between Stewart and the leader.

"I sound like a broken record, but literally we're taking it one day at a time."


"I sound like a broken record, but literally we're taking it one day at a time," Stewart said in NASCAR's Tuesday afternoon teleconference. "The last four weeks are tracks that I like and that I've had success at but every time you go to a track it's a little bit different than the time before, your setups change, your packages change and you hope you're staying ahead of it.

"So it's hard to tell whether we're gonna be able to be where we need to be but we're going to do everything we can to be as good as we can at all four of those races."

Stewart tried to downplay the difference between NASCAR's former chassis and the new car that's been in use at Martinsville since 2007. But the numbers say something profoundly different.

"I'm not sure it's been a huge deal except we're running on bump stops in the front that have really changed the ride quality of the car," Stewart said. "The way it transfers weight to the front and how you go into the corner under braking is a lot different. Depending on which side, whether it's the left front tire or the right front tire that engages the bump stop first changes the way that that feels and transitions."

It's obviously -- at least by the numbers -- what Stewart's fought at Martinsville. In three of the four races right before the change to the new car was made, Stewart led half or more of three of them -- leading 247 laps spring 2005, 283 in the fall of that year when he finished second from his third career Martinsville pole and then 288 in the spring of 2006, when he won his second career Martinsville race.

But since the new car was introduced, Stewart's led only 12 laps in nine races -- and 11 of those came in the new car's first event, in April 2007.

"We've fought handling the last couple of times there," Stewart said. "And it does make it harder because you're trying to make up more in the braking zones. It's just getting your car to do what you want it to do just like anywhere else."

Stewart said he was going to try something different in an attempt to figure that out, and he's going to stay in-house to do it. In the five Martinsville races since he's joined Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, has run appreciably better than his teammate. Newman had a pole in the fall of 2009, three top-five starts and three consecutive top-10 finishes kicking off his SHR tenure. In addition, he's led a total of 58 laps in a span where Stewart's led just one.

"We're going to Martinsville with Ryan's [setup] package," Stewart said. "We've kind of struggled there, so we're going to start with Ryan's setup and work from there. We know it's going to be a little different for me -- my driving style and Ryan's are a little bit different -- but we feel like that's a good place to start for the weekend."

Stewart's past three Martinsville finishes are 26th, 24th and 34th, and he's not been on the lead lap at the finish in any of them.