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Tony Stewart and his teammates have stumbled out of the gate thus far this season.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
MARTINSVILLE — Thus far, Tony Stewart’s finish numbers in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season read like a bingo card destined for the nearest waste basket.
First, there a 41st-place finish in the Daytona 500. Then came an eighth at Phoenix, followed by an 11th-place showing at Las Vegas. Last Sunday, the three-time Sprint Cup champion had a flat tire on the third lap and slogged home 31st at Bristol
That evidence established, the guy nicknamed “Smoke” didn’t figure to be in a real chipper mood Wednesday when he rolled into Martinsville Speedway for a media gig for the April 7 STP Gas Booster 500 at the historic half-mile track.
How did it go? Well, he didn’t throw anything at anybody in the speedway’s posh “Club 47” in the luxury suites section.
Outside of his victory in the season-opening Nationwide Tour Series 300-miler at Daytona, this could qualify as Stewart’s strongest run of the season.
Stewart, who has matured from his oft-bombastic younger days on the stock car trail, stepped up and answered every question in a polite tone of speech that produced words that often sparked laughter.
So what he’s off to his worst start ever on the Cup tour. His current 24th spot in the standings marks the first time the Indiana driver has ever been positioned outside of the top 20 through four events.
When asked to supply a list of adjectives to describe his stalled start, Stewart grinned and replied: “Not been very good so far.
“Just a lot of bad luck. We had a couple of respectable runs in there, but we had two races of just bad luck early, things that were out of our control. Hopefully, that’s not an indication of what the rest of the year is going to be like. It’s definitely not the way you want to start a season, for sure.”
No biggie, he says. He’s been around the game long enough that’s it way too early for concern. Of course, Stewart also knows that the circuit will be running Sunday at California’s Auto Club Speedway, where he’s won two of the past three races, plus recorded five top-10s in five of the past six events.
“It will be disappointing if we don’t have a good weekend there for sure,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be a crisis where we say, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re in big trouble if we don’t have a good weekend.’ It’s still early in the season.”
Stewart, who co-owns his three-car Chevrolet team that also fields cars for drivers Ryan Newman and tour rookie Danica Patrick, conceded the operation hasn’t been up to snuff out of the gate. Newman is 23rd and Patrick 28th in points.
“It shows as an organization we have a little catching up to do right now,” Stewart said. “We’ve all struggled at some point during the races.”
When asked if he was close to hitting the panic mode or merely concerned at this point, Stewart responded to a probing reporter with his own question.
“Are you concerned when you go home and your wife is mad at you?” Stewart asked. “Do you panic?”
When the scribe said “no,” Stewart continued.
“All right, same thing,” he said. “There’s a difference between panic and concern. If you’re not concerned, you’re not doing your job. If you panic, you’ve got as much opportunity to go backwards as you do forwards.
“We’ve got a lot of races to get these points caught up. The closer it gets to making that cutoff [to the 10-race season-ending Chase], the more the panic starts setting in if you’re way behind and have to make something happen.”
Still, it’s obvious that Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t dialed into NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car like fellow Chevy-running Hendrick Motorsports. Stewart hinted his team is about ready to ask for some solutions from their Bowtie teammates.
“We’re going to start leaning on them heavily … more so than we have been,” he said. “We’re foolish not to. We’ve got to work with our teammates and we’ve got a great working relationship with those guys. So this is a time that it could play for us, for sure.
“We share information. We still have to execute it at our own individual shops. We’re still have work to do, we’re still trying to sort it out with our engineers. We don’t strictly rely on their information. There’s times we have things to contribute to those guys as well, so it’s not a one-way street.”
In the meantime, Smoke isn’t about to erupt. Not yet, anyway.
“I think it’s just time that’s going to close that gap up,” Stewart said. “We knew there would be teams that would probably figure this package out right away, there’s going to be teams that are going to struggle.
“It’s just a matter of doing our homework and not panicking and saying: ‘Aw, we’re behind and we can’t get caught up.’
“We know we can get caught up. It’s just a matter of going through the process and learning this car, and hopefully some of the bad luck that’s come with it will be out of the way, too.”
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