There is no place like home, especially for racers.
And while New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a long, long way from reigning and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart’s native Indiana, the 1.058-mile oval might as well be the home track for Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing team. After all, they dominate New Hampshire like they’ve been here forever.
In last year’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301, SHR scored a sweep, with Ryan Newman qualifying first and winning the race, and Stewart both qualifying and finishing second. It was the first time since Hendrick Motorsports in the 1989 Daytona 500 that the same team qualified first and second and finished first and second in the same race.
And how’s this for a trivia nugget? According to SHR team representative Mike Arning, last June’s New Hampshire race was the first time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the same drivers in the same order since DePaolo Engineering did it on April 7, 1957 at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, where Fireball Roberts won from the pole and Paul Goldsmith started second and finished second. In the 1989 Daytona 500, Darrell Waltrip won, but started second. His Hendrick teammate Ken Schrader started from the pole and finished second.
And that was just the beginning for Stewart.
In the fall New Hampshire event, Stewart was the winner, earning one of his five race victories in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as part of his improbable championship run.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Stewart and the SHR gang are itching to hit the Loudon, N.H., track on Friday. That’s especially true since so far this week the team has gotten some bad news: The U.S. Army, one of Newman’s primary sponsors since SHR’s inception in 2009, is bailing out of NASCAR next season, while Stewart lost six points when NASCAR penalized his team for flunking inspection last week at Daytona.
But Stewart is well known for taking it one weekend at a time, and his focus now is on New Hampshire.
“Loudon was awfully good for us last year,” Stewart said. “To start 1-2 and finish 1-2 in this race last year, and then to come back in the fall and have Ryan (Newman) win the pole again and for us to win the race, it really doesn’t get much better than that. When you run that well someplace, you love coming back. We had a dream weekend last July at New Hampshire and, really, a dream year. Now, we’ll just try and duplicate it.”
History suggests he has a good shot.
In his last five starts at NHMS, Stewart has one victory, two runner-up finishes and four top fives. And he and Brad Keselowski are the only Cup drivers to earn three race victories so far this season. All of which makes Stewart the favorite this weekend, the first race in the second half of the NASCAR season.
No question, Stewart’s looking forward to getting back “home” to New England.
“Obviously, I like it because I’ve had success there,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it’s hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you’ve got a good car, it’s always fun to race.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.