Stewart in search of elusive win at Darlington

After winning two of the first five Sprint Cup season, defending champion Tony Stewart has had some...

After winning two of the first five Sprint Cup season, defending champion Tony Stewart has had some disappointing races. This weekend he hopes he can pick up his first career victory at Darlington. (JOE SKIPPER/Reuters file photo)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 PM ET

TORONTO - Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart had a phenomenal start to 2012, winning two of the first five races in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet.

But since Texas on April 14 when he finished 24th, two laps down to winner Greg Biffle, Stewart has struggled mightily.

His past two starts — at Richmond and at Talladega this past Sunday — has been big disappointments for Stewart, but not all of the fault should land on his shoulders.

NASCAR officials — whether they admit it or not — threw a questionable debris caution late at Richmond that cost Stewart and his team a sure victory.

And at Talladega it was simply that Stewart was a victim of what was going on around him at the treacherous 2.66-mile superspeedway.

His remarks after that race — as sarcastic as they were intended — made the point that fans may want to see wrecks in stock car racing, but at a cost Stewart, for one, does not agree with.

But as he heads to historic Darlington Raceway on Saturday for the Southern 500, Stewart sees an opportunity to make his own history — the 1.33-mile oval is only one of two Cup tracks he has not won on.

In spite of that he said this week he anxious to race there, to be part of the lore of the Lady in Black.

“A lot of it has to do with the history of the track,” he said. “If you can say you won a race at Darlington — that’s a feather in your cap; that’s something to be proud of, knowing that you’re in a group of drivers with names like Pearson and Petty — the pioneers of our sport who you hear stories about the races they ran there and the races they won there.”

Stewart said that the track that is often referred to as “The Track Too Tough to Tame” comes by that reputation honestly.

“You don’t see a lot of guys who have a lot of success there,” he said. “That just shows you how difficult Darlington is to get a handle on. If you can have a good day and win there, it’s like ... knowing that you conquered something that’s very hard to obtain.

“Some people aren’t that deep into the history of the sport, but there are a lot of us who do appreciate the past. And I guess for me, being able to race at Darlington is a way of preserving the past.”

MORE LOTUS WOES

A week after Lotus let two IZOD IndyCar teams — the Bryan Herta Autosports/Barracuda squad and the DRR team — out of engine contracts for this season, Dragon Racing announced it is suing the manufacturer for $4.6 million US.

Dragon, owned by Jay Penske, claim in court papers filed in California this week that Lotus damaged Penske’s reputation by spreading “especially outrageous” falsehoods about the team and for failing to deliver two chassis, therefore hurting the team’s ability to be competitive.

In the court documents Dragon claims: “Put simply, Dragon has had enough of Lotus’ deceit and wrongdoing. Dragon has put an end to its ill-fated relationship with Lotus and now seeks recompense for the damages inflicted upon it.”

Meanwhile the aforementioned DRR team has agreed to partner up with Panther Racing for the rest of the season in Chevrolet powered Dallaras.

The team will field cars for JR Hildebrand and Oriol Seriva.

That leaves only Barracuda and Canada’s Alex Tagliani without and engine for this month’s Indianapolis 500, but Honda is expected to give them one before the end of this week.

FINISH LINES

The 1996 F-1 world champion Damon Hill is getting back behind the wheel of a race car. The 51-year-old last raced in 1999, but will race in the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup race on the DTM support bill at Brands Hatch on May 18-19 ... K&N Performance Filters had signed on to be the title sponsor for the 2012 Pro Sport Bike class in the MOPAR Canadian Superbike Championship ... A 2013 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 has been chosen as the pace car for the Indy 500 on May 27. According to Chevrolet, with 638 horsepower, the ZR1 is the most powerful production car ever to pace the race.

DEAN’S RANT

Danica Patrick’s temper tantrum at the end of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Friday at Talladega Superspeedway — where she turned Sam Hornish Jr. into the wall — should have been addressed immediately by race officials.

There is no room in racing for a driver using his — or in this case her — car as a weapon.

Remember when Kyle Busch did much the same thing to Ron Hornaday last year at Texas? That bit of histrionics earned Busch a suspension.

In Patrick’s case she wasn’t even called on the carpet.

It appears now, however, that NASCAR will bring Patrick in before this week’s race at Darlington for a little one-on-one chat.

Hornish reports that she has already phoned him to apologize.

It would be easy to think that NASCAR may have looked the other way at the incident just because Patrick is, without doubt, the biggest attraction on the Nationwide grid.

And while that my be exactly what happened NASCAR must at least put her on some sort of probation for her actions.

If they don’t, it would not be surprising that one of her competitors in the junior series takes the law into his own hands and sends Patrick the message that NASCAR won’t.

MOTOCROSS STAR QUITS JOE GIBBS RACING

When Joe Gibbs Racing signed James Stewart to a contract last season, it was expected that the 26-year-old Motocross and Supercross champion would eventually make the transition from two wheels to four in NASCAR.

In fact, NASCAR bosses were licking their chops at the prospect of a charismatic African-American driver becoming the poster child of its Drive for Diversity program.

But just six months into a three-year deal Stewart signed with JGR last October, he has jumped from the JGRMX Yamaha program to the Yoshimura Suzuki Racing team, pretty much ending the chance of him joining up with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin on the NASCAR Sprint Cup squad.

Stewart will now compete in both AMA Pro Motocross and Supercross aboard the Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 beginning with the first round of the 2012 AMA Pro Motocross Championship in Sacramento, Calif., on May 19.

Stewart’s resume in motorcycle racing is incredible: Six AMA championships, including two AMA Supercross titles, and a perfect-season AMA Pro Motocross championship. He also has a FIM World Supercross championship as well as two Motocross of Nations titles.

“I’m really looking forward to joining the (Suzuki) team,” he said in a team release. “It’s been a pleasure to get to test with these guys and meet the team. I’m very excited, I love the bike and ever since I rode it from Day 1 I knew it was a great opportunity for me to come out and showcase my talent.

“We’re all excited to get the ball rolling and see what we can do over the next few years.”

GILLES VILLENEUVE REMEMBERED

It was 30 years ago this week that Canada’s Gilles Villeneuve died in a crash while qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolter on May 8, 1982.

He was at the time this country’s greatest gift to Formula One racing.

Some may point to Villeneuve’s record of just six wins, two poles and no world championships in his 68 F-1 starts as not worth of the adulation he still has today, but those people would be wrong.

Villeneuve drove every single lap as if it was the one that would win him the championship.

Often driving a Ferrari that was underpowered compared to his competitors Villeneuve managed to become one of Tifosi’s greatest heroes for his hell-bent for leather driving style.


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