For all the races Tony Stewart has driven in his 40-plus years of racing, there’s one thing he’s never done.
He has never driven on a road course that has been repaved.
The Columbus native will have a chance to do that today when he and his fellow NASCAR drivers compete in the Cheez-It 355k at The Glen. The Watkins Glen road course underwent a $12 million offseason repaving.
“Because of the repaving, there will be more grip everywhere,” Stewart said in a news release. “Braking zones have more grip, getting in the gas has more grip, cornering has more grip. Anytime there is more grip, it’s harder to pass. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Besides the repaving, Watkins Glen also has new concrete on pit road, completed electrical work, concrete rumble strips in the turns and new grading and grassing along the track’s perimeter. Several drivers, including Stewart’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Bush, tested at the track last week.
Stewart leads all drivers with five wins at Watkins Glen. In addition, he has two runner-up finishes and 10 top-10s and has led 225 laps in his 15 career Sprint Cup starts at the venue.
“There is something about that place that we figured out,” Stewart said. “There are parts we knew were important, and that’s where we focused to get our car good. When we could, it made our cars fast.”
Stewart continues to close in on a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With five races left before the Chase, he sits 11th on the Chase grid.
The top 16 make the Chase, as long as they are in the top 30 in the point standings. Stewart currently ranks 27th.
“I feel like in the next few weeks we will need to continue to build on what we’ve built up to this point,” Stewart said. “If I felt like we were a contender to win every race right now, then maybe I would want the Chase to begin now. But we need to gain a little bit before the Chase starts. We are going to make good use of the next five races.”
Cheez-It 355k at the Glen, 2:30 p.m. (USA)
Starting position: (qualifying Saturday)
Finished fifth in Pennsylvania 400
CHASE FOR THE CUP
Last race: 36 points
Season total: 353 points (27th)
Current position on Chase grid: 11th