Stewart aims to add Daytona win to trophy case

DEAN MCNULTY , QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 PM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart has won two NASCAR championships, one IndyCar crown and enough USAC sprint car titles to fill a library.

But a win in the Great American Race — the Daytona 500 — still eludes the 38-year-old native of Columbus, Ind.

Stewart said on Friday that he would do just about anything, and he meant anything — even crossing the finish line on fire — to rectify that situation on Sunday.

“Absolutely. I can get out in victory lane and my legs can be on fire and I am fine with it,” he said. “I don’t care, just give me the trophy.”

Stewart’s best Daytona 500 result was a second place in 2004, although he has two wins at the 2.5-mile high- banked oval, but both of those were in 400-mile mid-summer races in 2006 and last season.

Although it has frustrated him not to have won the “big one,” Stewart said that he hopes he still has lots more opportunities, starting with Sunday. His other dream — of winning the Indianapolis 500 — will never be fulfilled, he admitted.

“Indy is the one that frustrates me the most that I haven’t got,” he said. “The good thing is, I still have opportunities (at Daytona). I’m not going to have anymore Indy 500 opportunities, that side of it is past so that is why that is frustrating.

“(Daytona) at times has been frustrating because we have been so close so many times. It is like I told somebody earlier: If we ever do win it, what’s going to make it so gratifying is because we have worked so hard. To finally accomplish that goal will make it even more special.”

Many factors

Stewart said there are plenty of factors that make winning at Daytona so hard. But, he added, for those very same reasons, it makes it all the more appealing.

“It is just unpredictable, that is the hard part,” he said of Daytona’s high banks and bumpy straights. “That is what makes it so hard to win here because, instead of a handful of guys with the opportunity to win each week, you have half the field that, if things go their way and they get in the right positions and do the right things during the race, can get themselves in a position to win.”

Stewart said that at Daytona it is often just 10ths of a second that separates a potential winner from a 25th-place finisher. Unlike any other races — except those at NASCAR’s other big track, Talladega — Stewart said Daytona is out there for just about anyone to grab if they are in the right position at the right time.

“It is just unpredictable from that standpoint and that is what makes it to where you never can say somebody is the favourite. But there are so many variables that are different here than at a typical race weekend that make that a different equation,” he said.

Of concern to Stewart and the rest of the 43-car field that will start the race on Sunday is that, because of the rain Friday, no one was able to practise in race trim at Daytona International Speedway.

Little time

They will have just 85 minutes of practice time Saturday morning to prepare for the biggest, richest NASCAR race of the season and that little bit of practice bothers Stewart.

“I was looking forward to having the practice (Friday),” he said. “I will definitely have to utilize a lot of the time Saturday to finish some of the direction we ended up (Thursday) in the qualifying race. If we can have a halfway decent day, I think we are going to be okay.”

Stewart, who is entering his second season as team owner of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, said he’ll spend most of Saturday trying to get his car balanced.

“My focus, until we get to Sunday at least, is going to be trying to work on the balance of my car and getting it to drive to where the longer we get in to a run, I can stay wide open,” he said.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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