Ever since Tony Stewart stepped away from IndyCar racing and into NASCAR’s big stock cars he has been known as a warm weather racer.
That meant that come July, when the temperatures at tracks start hitting 35C and up it was time for Stewart to make a run for the championship, just like he did last season winning five of the final 10 Chase for the Championship races.
So what do we make of Stewart as he and the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet team head to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday for the Sprint Cup Goody’s Fast Relief 500?
Here it is only six races into the 2012 NASCAR season and Stewart already has a pair of wins. That would make him a winner in seven of the last 15 Sprint Cup events going back to September of 2011.
And there is still frost on the ground most mornings across North America.
Stewart should be able to keep up that momentum at the little, flat half-miler at Martinsville, a track where he won last season.
So it could be that Stewart is on his way to a fourth championship and that would tie him with his Indiana-raised rival, Jeff Gordon.
Stewart said this week that he likes his chances on Sunday because of his history at the place.
“It’s knowing that feel, it’s finding that combination that works, and the next time you come back to that track you know what that feel is like and you know what you’re looking for in practice for it to be good in the race,” he said. “You have the timing of what it was like, you just know what that feel is in the car that you’re looking for.”
But what Stewart said he likes most about Martinsville is that it takes him back to his short track racing roots; to a place where he learned his craft.
“It’s still got that old short-track feel,” he said. “That’s what I like. We run a lot of 1.5-mile tracks during the year and it’s the only place that races like this.
“You can out-brake guys and you can run the outside if you get a shot. It’s racing the way we all grew up racing.”
Stewart won at Martinsville in October, pretty much setting up his classic duel with Carl Edwards for the championship over the final three Chase dates.
He did it the hard way by passing five-time champion Jimmie Johnson on the outside, something that takes a whole lot of guts and even more skill at Martinsville.
Even Stewart confesses it was a daring move.
“I don’t think anybody has ever passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside,” he said. “We didn’t have the best race car that day, by any means, but we had the most determined pit crew to get it as good as they could get it.
“I was also the only guy who didn’t get in a wreck with somebody, so I was kind of proud of that.”
Sunday’s race goes a 1 p.m. EDT and will be televised live on TSN2 and on FOX.
FITZPATRICK'S READY TO ROLL
It has been a bit of a break for J.R. Fitzpatrick and the No. 60 Equipment Express Chevrolet Silverado in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
But all that changes Saturday at the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway.
The trucks have been in wait mode since the season opening race in February at Daytona and Fitzpatrick — the lone Canadian running in that series full time — is ready to do some beating and banging at the Virginia short track.
It will be Fitzpatrick’s third start at the half-mile oval where he has a pair of 21st place finishes.
“I will be a little more experienced than the last time I was there so it will be a lot better,” the Cambridge, Ont., native said this week. “I’m more comfortable in trucks now and I think these guys have probably put together the best piece I’ve ever had coming to Martinsville.”
The 23-year-old Fitzpatrick grew up racing around central and southern Ontario at short tracks like Delaware Speedway and Flamboro Speedway, so he said he is comfortable in close quarter racing that typifies Martinsville.
“I’m from short track racing so I’m looking forward to Martinsville,” he said.
Fitzpatrick spent Wednesday of this week testing the No. 60 Turn One Racing machine at North Carolina’s Caraway Speedway, preparing for Saturday’s race.
“I think the test went real well,” he said.
Fitzpatrick will have veteran crew chief “Cowboy” Starland on top of the pit box and he thinks that will help him.
“Cowboy and I are both kind of quiet but we communicate really well,” he said. “I think testing helped our communication further. He’s very experienced and that definitely helps.”
The Kroger 250 goes at 1 p.m. EDT, Saturday and will be shown live on SPEED-TV.