NSCS: Game Stays the Same for Stewart at Atlanta

RaceChaser Staff Featured, NASCAR, Southeast 0 Comments

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – official team release — Todd Warshaw/Getty Images North America photo —

Atlanta Motor Speedway plays host to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for a daytime race in the crisp air of late winter rather than a nighttime race in the heat of late summer. Gone is the Labor Day weekend event at the 1.54-mile oval and back is an early-season race in March, which had been an Atlanta staple dating back to the 1960s.

Rather than serving as the penultimate race before the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as it had since 2009, Atlanta now serves as the second race of the year. The stop in NASCAR’s Southeastern base allows teams a return to the routine of a three-day race weekend after spending nearly two weeks in Daytona Beach, Florida, for Budweiser Speedweeks and the season-opening Daytona 500.

Drivers and team personnel are creatures of habit, and Atlanta is a welcome respite from Daytona by providing practice and qualifying on Friday, a final practice on Saturday and a race on Sunday. Some of these same drivers and crewmen would argue that Atlanta in 2015 has less pressure than in years past, for the deadline to make the 16-driver Chase field is 25 races away, a far cry from the two-race deadline drivers endured during previous seasons. No one’s back is up against a wall.

Tony Stewart suggests otherwise. The driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) contends the game stays the same at Atlanta despite its new location on the schedule.

“I know some people think that drivers try harder at some races than others, but we don’t. We’re racers, and when we’re on the track, we race,” Stewart said. “I can tell you that every time I get in my Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy, I’m doing it because I want to win, whether it’s the first race on the schedule or the last. Sometimes there are circumstances that prevent you from being able to do that, but I look at this weekend’s race no different than I do a race 20 weeks from now. We’re going out there to try to win, just like every other race.”

While the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday may not fall into the must-win category, it certainly provides a strong opportunity to win, and Stewart has proven to seize opportunity.

Of Stewart’s 48 career Sprint Cup wins, three have come at Atlanta (spring 2002, fall 2006 and 2010). Augmenting those wins is a pole in 2012 and 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 27 Sprint Cup starts. Stewart has led at least one lap in 14 different Atlanta races for a total of 974 laps led. In six of those races, Stewart was tops in laps led. Stewart dominated in each of his three victories, and on two other occasions Stewart finished second (fall 2003 and spring 2007) after leading the most laps (109 and 121 laps, respectively).

“It always makes you feel good because know how to win there,” Stewart said of his past success at Atlanta. “It’s a matter of getting that feel to know what you need for the race. You always have that level of confidence knowing that you’ve been successful there in the past and you know how to do it.”

With Daytona becoming ever more distant in Stewart’s rearview mirror after an accident left him with a 42nd-place finish, Stewart sees a Chase berth at Atlanta, regardless of the time of year.

After all, it’s win and you’re in, proving the game stays the same in Atlanta.

CREDIT: Stewart-Haas Racing

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