What a difference a week can make.
Mired in 20th place in the point standings and without a win this season before last weekend, Tony Stewart improved his outlook dramatically with a victory at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The Columbus native rose to 16th and is the only driver in spots 11 through 20 with a win. He is on track to claim the first of two wild-card spots to the Chase.
“It’s big, and it definitely gives us some momentum,” Stewart said in a news release. “We got two weeks of momentum under our belts now at two totally different racetracks. That’s big, because momentum is huge in this sport. We still have a lot of work to do, but we won’t sit. I guarantee you none of these guys will tell you we’re exactly where we want to be right now.
“It’s a good reward for how hard they’ve been working to get that first win of the year,” he said. “Now it’s trying to be more consistent and stay in the top 10 more and make our program better. It’s proof that no matter how bad it’s been this year, none of these guys have quit and given up.”
Stewart will try to ride that momentum into Pocono, Pa., for Sunday’s Party in the Poconos 400. The track was resurfaced before last year’s race there.
“It’s probably lost some grip, but that will make for some better racing,” Stewart said. “You can see rubber getting into the racetrack, and that was with just a few laps around the track. To me, that’s very positive. The pace slowing down will make for better racing, for sure. The track surface really held up well over the winter. It didn’t shift a lot. It’s still smooth as glass.”
The new pavement has affected what works for Stewart as a driver at Pocono.
“The thing about Pocono, it’s definitely unique,” Stewart said. “It’s got its own personality, but now that it’s been repaved, and all the little nuances and tricks you learned when it was rougher and the tunnel turn was more aggressive, a lot of those things are gone. For us, we’re still learning it, or relearning it.”
Stewart has won twice at Pocono, taking the 2003 and 2009 Pocono 500s. The win in 2009 came in a fuel-mileage race.
“I’ve lost a lot more races like that than I’ve won,” Stewart said. “It was between Carl (Edwards) and me. We were the strongest two cars at the end of the race, and we were able to get the track position we needed. Our guys did a great job of getting us out of the pits in the lead and that gave us the opportunity to make Carl push harder in the beginning to get the lead.
“Once he went into that fuel conservation mode, we had to follow suit,” he said. “To be in a situation where your speed is dictated off the guy behind you and not off of what you can do, it’s a different style of racing. It’s hard. It’s just as hard, if not tougher, than trying to run 100 percent.”