Stewart looks to build on sixth-place finish

Tony Stewart is hoping Sunday’s sixth-place finish at Bristol, Tennessee, is the spark he needs to jump-start his quest to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Prior to Sunday, the season had been a challenging one for the Columbus native and three-time Sprint Cup champion.

“Part of this year, for me, is trying to get caught back up and to get back up to speed with the change in the rules package and the engine package,” Stewart said in a news release. “I’m used to driving really high-horsepowered cars, and when they took the horsepower away from us, that’s something that was different for me. So, I’m trying to figure out how to get used to it and how to make corner speed.

“It’s a matter of me changing my driving style to compensate for what the rules package is,” he said. “That’s something that Kevin (Harvick) has really hit on — both last year and this year — and Kurt’s (Busch) been figuring it out pretty quick. Danica (Patrick) has had some strong runs, too. I just need to catch up with my teammates.”

This weekend, Stewart and his competitors are in Richmond, Virginia, for tonight’s Richmond 400. It’s a track where Stewart won his first Sprint Cup race as a rookie on Sept. 11, 1999.

“Everything about the sport has changed since ’99,” he said. “The cars have changed. The horsepower has changed. The tires have changed. The entire sport has changed. The thing that’s still the same is you’ve got the greatest cars and the greatest drivers trying to win the race each week.”

At the three-quarter-mile Richmond International Raceway, Stewart has three wins, 11 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s with a total of 950 laps led in 31 career Sprint Cup starts.

“It’s not one of my favorite tracks; it is my favorite track,” Stewart said. “It’s the perfect-sized track for a Cup race. The other short tracks we run — Bristol and Martinsville — they’re cool in their own right, but there’s a lot of congestion at those two tracks. But at Richmond, it just seems like that extra quarter-mile, and that three-quarter-mile shape, and how wide the groove gets there, allows for good racing.

“It seems like we have to race ourselves and race the racetrack versus racing each other a lot of times,” he said. “You do have to race each other, obviously, but there are a lot of times during the race when you have the flexibility to move around on the racetrack and try to find a spot your car likes better than somewhere else. A lot of times on a short track, you don’t have the flexibility. You’re more narrowed down with what groove you’re going to be in. It is literally the favorite track of mine on the circuit.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.