Among the most frazzled drivers heading home from the Coca-Cola 600 marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday night was Tony Stewart, one of the pre-race favorites.
Stewart was an absolute non-factor in the race, suffering through one of his toughest runs of the season. He finished 25th, three laps off winner Kasey Kahne’s lead pace.
Among the results: Stewart fell two spots in Sprint Cup points to ninth. He was the only top-10 driver to lose two positions after the Charlotte race.
Can Stewart rebound this week and protect his top-10 standing? A casual look at his career results at Dover International Speedway would lead to the conclusion that he might drop further. Stewart hasn’t won at Dover since he swept both races in 2000, and he’s finished on the lead lap only once in the past four Sprint Cup races there.
But Stewart carries power with him to Dover this week, and it’s in the form of crew chief Steve Addington.
Addington-led teams have excelled on concrete tracks, scoring wins at Dover and Bristol with the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt.
“Whatever we’ve had in the past, we’re not bringing back,” Stewart said. “I told Steve, ‘I don’t care what package you put in the car, just make sure it isn’t what we ran the last two races there.’”
Addington has become something of an expert at making cars handle on concrete.
“We worked mechanical grip into the car and that seemed to pay off for us,” Addington said. “Plus, we learned some stuff. We had an accident with Kyle there at Bristol – the first time we were ever there together in ’08. We were leading the race and had a steering box issue, so we learned a lot with the steering and how he drove the race track.
“Hopefully, some of the stuff that we’ve learned over the years at those places and implementing them here for Tony will give him the feel he needs to pick the performance up at Dover and Bristol this year.”
Addington said high speeds generated by the tall banking at Dover and Bristol add to the different nature of the tracks.
“It’s a different animal just because of the speeds you carry at both of those places,” he said. “Keeping our tires and tire geometry to where we really watch our camber wears and stuff like that because it’ll mislead you in places like that, and you can get off. That’s the big thing – our front-end geometry and how we put the ride in the car.”
In Stewart’s first seven races at Dover, he won twice and finished no worse than seventh.
He’ll be looking for a return to that sort of positive consistency in Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.