With nine races to go in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ regular season, Tony Stewart has yet to win and claim a berth in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Right now, Stewart is outside the Top 16 cutoff point of the Chase Grid. He’s five points behind Kasey Kahne and 13 points behind Clint Bowyer, who occupies the 16th Grid position.
But tonight may be his night at Daytona International Speedway, which has been a stronghold for Smoke over the years.
While Stewart has yet to earn a Daytona 500 win, he has won 19 events at the World Center of Racing across Sprint Cup points and non-points races, Nationwide Series races, and IROC races.
And among those 19 victories are four of them in the Coke Zero 400, which is expected to go off around 7:30 p.m. ET tonight (weather permitting). Those four Daytona summer wins are the most among active Cup drivers, and in the last two Daytona summer races, Stewart has finished first (2012) and second (2013).
Out of all the winless drivers that are still battling for the post-season, Stewart has to be the favorite to emerge from this group and take the checkered flag. But as he alluded to this week, luck will be every bit as important as skill in these 400 miles.
“Someone described racing on the superspeedways of being a combination of a science project and the luck of a casino, and it’s exactly that way,” he said in a release.
“You do everything in your power to take care of the science or technology side. You do everything you can to build the fastest car. If you don’t have the luck to go with it – even if you don’t have any drama with getting the car touched, nothing happens to the car – if you’re just in the wrong spot at the wrong time, it can take you out of the opportunity to take the best race car in the field and win.”
He also noted the importance of recognizing how the draft will impact his car and in what ways.
“You just try getting in different scenarios and try to learn if you get in the middle of the draft, what does it do?,” he said. “Will it give you a push? Will it not give you a push? If you get next to this car, does it suck you up or does it slow you down?
“It’s trial and error, but at the same time, it’s like pulling a pin on a grenade. You know through that process that if one guy makes a mistake, your car’s torn up. It’s just a delicate balance of how hard you go, how many things you try, and how much time you spend doing it.”
Stewart will roll off 12th in this evening’s race, which is an opportunity to secure a Daytona win for a 10th consecutive season. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity to ensure a chance at a fourth Sprint Cup title in the fall.