Tony Stewart, right, jokes with Kevin Harvick after practice for Sunday’s Goody’s 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va. With rain washing out qualifying for the race, Stewart will start seventh on Sunday. Harvick will be in the 12th position.Ap photo
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — NASCAR is no different than the corporate world. Prime parking is a sure sign of success.
Tony Stewart has won two races on NASCAR’s shortest, trickiest oval, but when the first-year team owner pulled into Martinsville Speedway on Friday, the place where he saw his team’s hauler parked meant more to him than it probably ever had.
It was, he said, “a proud moment,” and one earned on the track by his seventh-place position in the points standings with a new team that needed to start with some success.
“We haven’t got that first win and we haven’t got that first top-five, but we’ve had consistent runs and we’re in the top-10 in points, so that … is an accomplishment,” the two-time series champion said Friday at the rainy, 0.526-mile oval.
And the infield parking grid, in a way, heralds that success.
In the Sprint Cup Series, team haulers serve as rolling billboards for teams while in transit, and as the inner sanctum at the racetrack. They hold spare parts and important electronic and analytical systems, and a plush meeting room for strategy sessions.
In stock car racing’s premier series, haulers are positioned inside the track according to the point standings, and Stewart’s was parked near the front in the Martinsville infield.
For many fledgling teams, getting into that top 35 is a season-long struggle, but Stewart got a great start with eighth-place runs in the season-opening Daytona 500 and the second race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
“I’m not sure I’ve had a big sense of anxiety yet,” he said after practice at the track, where rain washed out qualifying for Sunday’s race. He’ll start seventh.
“We’ve always had the attitude that we were going to take it a week at a time and we knew that there were going to be good and bad weeks, but so far during the weekends, it has been really smooth where we haven’t had that anxiety.
“It’s just run the way it’s supposed to run. That makes it a lot more calming.”
Stewart went into his new dual role adamant that he would focus solely on his duties as a driver on weekends, but unsure how he would be able to manage sticking to that approach.
“If anything, it’s played the opposite of what I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I thought I’d be a lot more nervous as a car owner and I’ve been relaxed instead.”
The 10 years he spent working for Joe Gibbs have helped, Stewart said, because he learned from the Hall of Fame coach to surround himself with good people and let them do their jobs.
“I feel like I could not go to the shop for the whole year almost, and other than signing paperwork, it would run fine with or without me in the shop,” he said.