It’s been an eventful past week for Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing.
The Columbus native won Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona. Bad news came Tuesday when the U.S. Army pulled its sports sponsorships beginning next year, and Stewart was penalized six driver points for having an open air hose in the cockpit during last week’s Daytona qualifying.
Wednesday night, Stewart won the “Best Driver” award at the ESPYs for his performance in winning the 2011 Sprint Cup series championship.
“I am thrilled to win the ‘Best Driver’ award after what turned out to be a great NASCAR season last year,” Stewart said in a news release. “I was fortunate enough to be able to take the checkered flag when it mattered most. There were some great drivers and great champions in this category, so I cannot thank the NASCAR fans and everyone who voted enough for their unbelievable support.”
Now, Stewart turns his attention to New Hampshire, where he finished first and second in two races last year. Qualifying begins at 3:30 p.m. today, and the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 starts at noon Sunday in Loudon, N.H.
“Obviously, I like it because I’ve had success there,” Stewart said. “But at the same time, it’s a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him.
“There are other tracks on the circuit where it’s hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too,” he added. “Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you’ve got a good car, it’s always fun to race.”
Last July, Ryan Newman and Stewart started and finished 1-2 at New Hampshire, giving Stewart-Haas the first 1-2 start and finish by a team since Hendrick Motorsports did it in the 1989 Daytona 500. It was the first 1-2 start and finish by the same drivers on the same team since DePaolo Engineering on April 7, 1957, at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway.
“Loudon was awfully good for us last year,” Stewart said. “To start 1-2 and finish 1-2 in this race last year, and then to come back in the fall and have Ryan win the pole again and for us to win the race, it really doesn’t get much better than that. When you run that well someplace, you love coming back. We had a dream weekend last July at New Hampshire and, really, a dream year. Now, we’ll just try and duplicate it.”
Stewart has started among the top five nine times and the top 10 16 times in his 26 previous Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire.
“It doesn’t mean anything if you wreck or if you have a problem,” Stewart said. “You can start in the back and get there. It’s just a lot harder to do it. It makes it a lot easier when you start second and you only have to pass one car. But starting up front is good for pit selection, and having good pit selection is half the battle.”
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