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AT this time last year, Tony Stewart was coming off the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and wins in two of the first five races on the 2012 schedule.
The Columbus native hasn’t been as fortunate in the past 12 months.
Although Stewart made the Chase last fall, he has only one win since last March. He’s struggled out of the gate this season and sits 24th in the point standings following a 31st-place finish Sunday at Bristol, Tenn.
Still, Stewart thinks the Stewart-Hass Racing team is better off now than a year ago.
“I think a lot of it is hard to say for sure because of the variable of the car and where we’re at in the learning process versus the other teams,” Stewart said in a news release. “I think that always ends up being the benchmark of how you grade yourself. It isn’t necessarily with yourself, but how you stack up to the rest of the teams you’re competing against. Attitude-wise and in terms of comfort level, I feel like we’re ahead of last year with Steve (Addington, crew chief) now and having Greg Zipadelli on board as our competition director.”
Stewart has had plenty of success at the site of Sunday’s 3 p.m. race, Fontana, Calif. He has six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 21 career starts there, with wins in two of the past four events.
Last year, Stewart outdueled Denny Hamiln in a race that was shortened from 200 to 129 laps because of rain.
“It really boiled down to Denny Hamlin and myself,” Stewart said. “We were, at different times, the fastest cars on the track, but I was really happy with my car. We didn’t have to adjust very much with it, and I felt like we had a car that had a lot of adjustability to it later in the day.
“Really from the drop of the green flag through the course of the race, and to the part where we actually got rain, we had a dominant car,” he said. “Denny had spots where he was the fastest, and I think he had room to gain to close that ground.
“They were definitely en route to do that when the rain came, but I think it was really going to be down to the two of us for the rest of the day, regardless of the weather.”
Stewart has a new primary sponsor this week, Rush Truck Centers.
“We’ve been doing business with Rush Truck Centers for years,” Stewart said. “It’s an established relationship that will now have a much higher profile thanks to their decision to become a primary sponsor with our team. Rush Truck Centers keeps our trucks and transporters in great condition, and you could argue those are the most important parts of our race team. Without them, our cars never get to the racetrack. The employees of Rush Truck Centers are as detail-oriented as we are, and they play a critical role in the success of our race team.”
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