Stewart hopes to jump-start season at Phoenix

While the start of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has not been kind to Tony Stewart, Phoenix International Raceway has yielded some of the Columbus native’s biggest moments in racing.

Stewart finished second in his first race at Phoenix, a 1993 USAC event. Then, in his NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie year in 1999, he won the Checker/Dura Lube 500K.

“When we ran the USAC cars out there, it was pretty cool because I had never gone that fast before,” Stewart said in a news release. “It’s just one of those tracks where, to run a Midget and a Silver Crown car there, it definitely got your attention. It was pretty fast.”

In 25 Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix, Stewart has eight top-five finishes, 12 top-10s and 555 laps led while completing 99.8 percent of the available laps. Besides Sprint Cup cars, he has raced USAC Midgets, Indy cars, Supermodifieds and Xfinity Series cars at Phoenix.

“So I’ve logged a bunch of laps there,” Stewart said. “To think that it all kind of started at Phoenix, I guess you could say it’s the place where my career came full-circle.”

When Stewart was in the IndyCar series, he and Arie Luyendyk were the two lead test drivers for Firestone.

“We spent a lot of time in Phoenix because the weather is so good out there all year long,” Stewart said. “We would spend three days out there tire testing and we had two or three of those sessions through the winter. I got to spend a lot of time running around Phoenix. I got to know every line around the track that’s ever been run and why it’s been run.”

This weekend, Stewart and his NASCAR competitors are in Phoenix for Sunday’s 500K. Stewart will look for a strong finish following accidents at Daytona and Atlanta and a 33rd-place finish in Las Vegas in his first three races of the season.

“I think just learning the way the car is going to respond every week with the rules in place and finding the combination that works the best,” Stewart said. “We’re basically starting from scratch. There are some things that you take away from what we did last year, but anytime you have significant rules changes like the ones we have this year, that’s the No. 1 obstacle — trying to figure out what our Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy likes and dislikes so it gives you a direction in which to work.”