Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is in the middle of a very busy week.
Last weekend, “Smoke” made a successful return to sprint car racing with a win and then a third-place finish in events at two Michigan dirt tracks.
But this Wednesday night, he’ll put on the track owner’s hat as his Eldora Speedway plays host to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the dirt-track “Mudsummer Classic.”
And then come Friday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he’ll begin his quest for a third Brickyard 400 victory that would also propel him into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“It’s almost like two weeks in one for me,” Stewart said today in a NASCAR teleconference. “Eldora’s enough to cause you enough stress to last you for the rest of the year, and then going to the Brickyard, that’s a big race for me as well.”
While he helps with final preparations to get Eldora ready for the Trucks, he’s also looking ahead to returning to Indy, where he won in 2005 and again in 2007.
“When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy, there is nothing — that is sacred ground to me,” said Stewart, who ran a tire test there for Goodyear just a few weeks ago. “It always has been, always will be. I don’t care how many times you win there, it’s never enough.
“It’s nice to have won two races already there. That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
And doing it is what matters right now for Stewart, who is 17 points behind the 16th-place cutoff that’s currently occupied by Greg Biffle. With 11 drivers having won so far this year, five spots on the 16-driver Chase Grid remain open.
Stewart called the matter a “double-edged sword,” in that while a win would put him in the post-season, he’s still in contention to make the cut on points alone.
“Mindset-wise, there is nothing that is different other than we just need to — as much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we’re kind of in a position where we’re close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that,” he said.
“Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk if you run second losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, ‘Well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.'”
But that’s for later in the week. Right now, his main focus on his track’s big race on Wednesday night and getting the chance to truly get a sense of the atmosphere around it.
Last year’s inaugural “Mudsummer Classic” was almost universally hailed as a triumph for everyone involved. But Stewart was so busy with preparations for the event that he says all he wanted to do every night was go to sleep.
He figures that the atmosphere will be very much different from a “normal” NASCAR weekend, but admitted that “it’s hard to describe.”
“I’ve been at Eldora so much but different divisions with Sprint cars and winged Sprint cars and late models, and modifieds – the show is different,” he explained.
“Even though it’s the same racetrack, it’s always different. It’s not going to be what you expect to see out on a Truck Series event. It’s kind of like taking Cup cars to a road course.
“The same series, the same drivers, the same vehicles, but it’s just a totally different racetrack. So I think that’s what makes it so much fun for everybody is that it’s outside the box and outside the norm.”