After not having much luck during the first six races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, a change in the start time might be what Tony Stewart needs.
The Columbus native has only one top-10 finish and sits 22nd in the points standings. But after six Sunday afternoon races, the series moves to Saturday night with tonight’s NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Texas is a track that has been kind to Stewart. He has a pair of wins and 12 top-10 finishes in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at the venue.
“You have to be comfortable or you’re not going to go fast,” Stewart said in a news release. “The more comfortable I am, the faster we go. This track, the grooves have moved around over the years. We’ve seen the track get wider, and it’s made it to where you can move around on the racetrack and where you can run the top side or the bottom side.
“It’s nice from a driver’s perspective to be able to have that flexibility behind the steering wheel, knowing that if your car’s not driving exactly the way you want it to, you can move around the racetrack and find a spot the car likes better.”
In his past 14 races at Texas, Stewart has earned a top-five rating in several loop data statistics, including driver rating, average running position, fastest laps run, laps led and laps in the top 15.
“I’ve found that you can pass anywhere, really,” Stewart said. “If you get a guy who misses the bottom of the corner and he bobbles, you can get around him. But even if someone doesn’t make a mistake and you’ve got a little better car than they do, the groove has moved up enough over the years to where the track’s a little wider, so you have more room to get a run on a guy.
“But, as the tires wear out and grip goes away, drivers will make mistakes and a car’s handling will become more important,” he said. “And, when a guy makes a mistake, you need to be there to capitalize on it. You can really pass anywhere as long as the right opportunity comes up.”
Stewart, who also raced at Texas in the Indy Car and IROC series, has found that the track has developed over the years.
“Anytime you put more seasons on a racetrack, the better it gets because it seems like the pavement wears out on the bottom and it makes it to where you can run the top and be fast and you can run the bottom and be fast,” Stewart said. “It makes the whole racetrack, speed-wise, about the same, versus when they pave a racetrack and the only groove is right on the bottom.
“The fastest way is the shortest way because it all has the same amount of grip, so the shorter distance is faster,” he said. “Just like Mobil 1 technology creates efficiency with our engine, transmission, even our power steering, we find efficiency with the line we run.
“Every year we come here, I think the racing just gets better and better, as far as being able to move around on the racetrack and guys not having to just follow each other and get stuck behind each other. You can actually pass. You can race. You can get away from guys if your car’s fast.”