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Race Day: Stewart Not Ready To Celebrate Yet

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 25 2011

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman celebrated in Victory Lane at New Hampshire earlier this year as Newman won and Stewart was second. Will Stewart Haas Racing dominate again today? Depends who you ask. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

In the weeks leading up to this year’s Chase, Tony Stewart was doing his reverse-Polyanna thing. No way, he was telling people, that he had a shot at winning this year’s Sprint Cup championship.

Then came September and three straight top-seven finishes – finishes which were topped by the Chase-opening victory at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend.

And today, the race is at the track in Loudon, N.H. where he finished second to teammate Ryan Newman just two months ago.

Surely the two-time champion and the series’ top owner/driver must be feeling the power as he heads into today’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Only kind of, he said.

“I’ll be honest. I didn’t have that confidence until the last couple of weeks,” Stewart said. “We had three great runs in a row and three totally different race tracks and that is what makes you feel better about it. You feel better as you go, but, there’s no guarantees and you feel like, unless you’ve been doing it and been good at it every week, you never feel like you are in the right spot. I still think we’re taking it a week at a time. I don’t know that I look at it any further than that. We’ve had days where we were really good and the next week totally terrible. It shows that you have to take it a week at a time. I’m not worried about how big of a threat I think I am or anybody else thinks we are. It still goes down to doing your job each day and you take it one day at a time still.”

Some of the competition is not buying the Stewart soft sell.

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “I’d like to agree with him and say he’s not a threat and we don’t even have to worry about him.  But I’m going to disagree with Tony and say

Tony Stewart celebrated his first victory of the season in Victory Lane at Chicagoland Speedway last Monday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

that I think he is a threat.  The first time that I actually started getting nervous about that team was at the end of the Atlanta race when he was just marching forward and I thought, ‘Man, they’ve got something here.’  If you remember back to our win at Vegas he was screaming fast there, so I think they’re going to be tough.  I think Tony is obviously a great race car driver.  He’s been through championship battles and won them,and I think he’s gonna be tough unless they have some sort of slump like everybody can have and everybody has had, then they’re gonna be tough.  He’s not going to make mistakes.”

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet and an employee of Stewart’s: We had a car that was as good as (Tony) Stewart’s, he just had a little bit better fuel mileage. I think it was a great feeling knowing that we had two cars that were capable of winning and when Tony (Stewart) won the first race of the year, first race of the Chase that was obviously good timing of all things. If we had of ran one-two that would have been the best situation but even though we finished eighth, we had a better car than that. As I said then it was disappointing for us to finish where we did because that was the worst we ran all day long was the last lap. Just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Hass to start the Chase on a good note.

Fast facts

What: Sylvania 300

Jimmie Johnson and his team have won six time in Loudon. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway; Loudon, N.H.

When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90

Track layout: 1.058-mile oval

Banking in turns: Variable between 2 and 7 degrees

Race distance: 300 laps/317.4 miles

2010 winner: Clint Bowyer

2010 polesitter: Brad Keselowski

Today’s polesitter: Ryan Newman

This morning’s points leaders: 1. Kevin Harvick, 2,054; 2. Tony Stewart, 2,047; 3. Carl Edwards, 2,044; 4. Kurt Busch, 2,043; 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,041; 6. Ryan Newman, 2,040; 7. Brad Keselowski, 2,040; 8. Jimmie Johnson, 2,038; 9. Kyle Busch, 2,035; 10. Matt Kenseth, 2,030; 11. Jeff Gordon, 2,029; 12. Denny Hamlin, 2,013.

Metalmania

During last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, a mystery piece of metal flew into the air. It appeared to be a piece of sheet metal but nobody seemedto know where it came from. Several drivers were asked about the UFO this weekend in New Hampshire.

“No, I don’t know,” Carl Edwards said when asked if he knew what it was. “I thought that maybe it was my imagination or something because I saw it and looked like a piece of metal that got flung like a

Carl Edwards, UFO hunter. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

boomerang off a car and just took off at an amazing height.  It might have been something outside of the race track that I was seeing far away or something, but I only caught it down the back straightaway and I just wondered if anyone else saw it, but I’m pretty sure it’s a piece of something that came off of a race car.  As high as it was, I can’t imagine it made it back down to the surface.  It probably ended up outside the race track.”

There was on-air speculation that the debris was a piece of crush panel – thin, light metal – from a car. Kyle Busch, who hit the UFO and said it destroyed the handling of his car, said: not a crush panel.

“It was heavy, but I have no idea,” Busch told The Sporting News. “It’s too hard to tell going 200 mph exactly what it is. It looked like a crush panel, but it was definitely not a crush panel, because it was way heavier than that.”

The piece was suddenly gone and NASCAR never threw a caution. Good non call, Edwards said.

“I think lately, I talked about it a little bit after the Nationwide race, but I thought NASCAR did a really good job of letting that race play out.  I hope that they aren’t as quick to throw the cautions in this Chase as they have been.  I know that could hurt or help you, but, in the end, I think it lets the races play out more naturally and lets the fastest cars, the ones with the best strategy, win instead of late race cautions to bunch things up.  I’m not complaining about the race track.  The race tracks always look real clean to me and I’ve never had an issue with too much debris on the track.  I’ve always had trouble finding the debris that we’re under caution for.”

Trivia time

Only once has a driver led all 300 laps in a Cup race at New Hampshire? Who was that driver and when did he do it?

11 and 1

Jimmie Johnson was asked this week if he thinks if the theme of the 2011 Chase among other drivers and teams is to get Jimmie.

“No, I don’t see it that way,” Johnson, going for a sixth straight championship, said. “I guess every team and driver builds a thought process around something that tries to motive their team around whatever it is. We all have those pep talks you probably see in football, all that stuff takes place in these transporters as well where you rally your team around a thought or a direction and everybody is in on it. We could be that focal point for a lot of teams but for us what we’ve done over the last five years is behind us. We’re in today and that’s how this team has always operated. We’ve got to worry about what we’re doing today and do our best job today. If we do it right over the next 10 weeks we have a shot at being the champions. So we know the past is the past and it’s all about today.”

11 and 1, II

Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing, has predicted this is the year that somebody does

Richard Childress says Jimmie falls this season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

stop Johnson. His lone candidate to do that – Kevin Harvick – said; Whoa.

“Well sometimes he gets excited,” Harvick said of Childress. I don’t know if that was the absolute right thing to say in public but I think all in all Richard is very confident in us as drivers and feels like he spends the money and does the things to be competitive for a championship and just wants to win. That’s just what he likes about racing other than his grandkids being involved in the sport now.

“With Richard it’s all about winning whatever. Whether it’s a race, a practice, a championship, he wants to be up on that stage again and we want to be right there with him. It’s one of those things where you just have to roll along with it. We’re one week in and it’s a long ways to go, anything can happen. We’re happy with the way that it started but we’re definitely not going to get to confident about it. We’re just going to take it one week at a time.”

New Hampshire, by the numbers

1 – fewest lead changes (9/17/00)

2 – fewest cautions (7/13/97)

2 – fewest laps led by race winner (Jeff Burton, 7/11/99)

3 – wins by Dodge at NHMS since manufacturer’s return to NASCAR in 2001

4 – most wins (Jeff Burton)

5 – wins from the pole; seven from the front row

5 – most poles (Ryan Newman)

6 – number of jet dryers available for track drying this weekend at NHMS

7 – fewest cars on lead lap at finish (7/11/93)

7 – drivers with more than one win

8 – races won from outside a top-20 starting position

10 – fewest caution laps (7/13/97)

17 – most cautions (7/10/94)

17 – different pole winners

20 – different race winners

23 – most lead changes (twice, most recent 7/21/02)

30 – most cars on lead lap at finish (7/21/02)

30 – fewest cars running at finish (twice, most recent 9/17/00)

43 – most cars running at finish (9/16/07)

79 – most caution laps (7/10/94)

120 minutes – approximate amount of time it takes to dry the 1.058-mile track

300 – most laps led by race winner (Jeff Burton, 9/17/00)

Trivia answer

In the fall race of 2000, Jeff Burton, then of Roush Racing, led all 300 laps in winning at New Hampshire.

Up next

The Chase moves to the high banks at the  Monster Mile of Dover International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson won there a year ago. Johnson is the winningest active driver at Dover with six victories.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 25 2011
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