DIRT TRACK DEMON Stewart brings in a crowd
The NASCAR driver dazzled 8,000 at Sharon Speedway.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HARTFORD -- Tony Stewart didn't want any personality questions, but he didn't mind others Thursday when the NASCAR Winston Cup standout appeared at Sharon Speedway.
The Rushville, Ind., native's appearance was part of "Tony Stewart Night," a promotion arranged with the help of fellow NASCAR driver Dave Blaney, who is also co-owner at Sharon Speedway.
To cap the evening, about 8,000 fans seated in the grandstands and standing around the dirt oval were treated to a 50-lap modified feature race that included the pair.
Stewart, fresh from a win at Watkins Glen, N.Y., is fourth in the Winston Cup points standings and third in money. Blaney is 20th in points.
Stewart finished runner-up in points last season and was fourth in 1999, when he had a history-making rookie season.
However, a reputation that follows him is that of "bad boy" for past run-ins with NASCAR officials and a recent incident with a photographer that led to severe fines.
"Let's start with another question," Stewart said at the outset." We've done enough personality questions lately."
Best so far
He said he's as close to the points lead as he's ever been at this point in the season.
"We're pretty happy where we're at right now," Stewart said. "I feel like we've got a legitimate shot at still coming back and possibly be in the running for the championship."
There is no formula for winning, he said, except preparation and luck.
"You have to be in the right place at the right time," Stewart said. "Every part of the team has to be right to go out and win races. The motor department has to be on their game, the fab shop has to do a really good job mounting bodies -- getting us a lot of down force but with the least amount of drag -- crew chiefs have to do their jobs on set-ups as well as getting some breaks on the track. So there are a lot of variables that go into winning. It's not just one or two things each week."
This weekend, Stewart and Blaney are headed to Michigan International Speedway for the Pepsi 400. Stewart has won once at MIS in seven tries.
"We've also got a couple top fives, so it's a place that I like," Stewart said. "Traditionally, we've had relatively good luck. It has a lot of personality. It's neat because you can go and run a lot of different places on the track and not get stuck running right behind guys a lot of times. There's a lot of different opportunities to run different lines."
Stewart, who has been in NASCAR one year longer than Blaney, started in karting and came up in the USAC circuit.
Stewart said he knew Blaney through the World of Outlaws and always admired him for what he was able to do with sprint cars. He figured Blaney would eventually move to NASCAR's Busch and Winston Cup series.
"I liked his approach," Stewart said. "He didn't want to jump right into the Cup series. He wanted to work his way up. That kind of dedication shows you his personality as a driver. I was hoping he'd have a good run when he got to Winston Cup."
Stewart said the Sharon Speedway appearance is one of a few he'll do this year.
"With sponsor G.E. Silicon, we put a package together where we could do fun racing where we weren't just at the Cup tracks every week," Stewart said. "It's being able to go to different race tracks and not worry about points and all the other stresses we go through on a regular weekend. It's being able to go to the track and just enjoy it for what it is -- a good time on dirt again."
Stewart was asked what people don't know about him.
"Don't believe everything you read in newspapers and in magazines and don't believe everything you see on Saturdays and Sundays," Stewart said. "The way I really am is Monday through Wednesday when people don't get a chance to be around us. The rest of it is the wrestling mentality: there's good and evil. We get labeled as the evil, I guess, but my friends don't look at it that way."